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ISBN: 0-8061-1972- . 


In 1972, during an anthropological 
expedition into the remote regions of 
the southern Huasteca in the state of 
Veracruz, Mexico, Alan and Pamela 
Sandstrom witnessed a Nahua Indian 
religious ceremony rarely viewed by 
outsiders. As part of the ritual a shaman 
cut a bundle of colored tissue papers into 
small, doll-like figures. Detailed, often 
fantastically elaborate, these images de- 
picted spirit entities that the shaman 
summoned and influenced for the bene- 
fit of humanity. 

The paper images cut by the Indian 
shaman are part of the living religious 
tradition of the Nahua, Otomi, and Te- 
pehua Indians of east-central Mexico, a 
tradition that dates to the pre-Hispanic 
era. This first systematic examination 
and analysis of traditional Indian paper- 
making, paper images, and their mean- 
ing and place in religious thought is 
based on the Sandstroms' ten years of 
fieldwork and research. It is written 
from the anthropological perspective 
for the interested nonspecialist. 

The book is profusely illustrated in 
color and nearly 200 black-and-white 
drawings of the images, taken from the 
more than 1,000 specimens in the au- 
thors' archive. Historical and ethno- 
graphic information places the paper 
figures in perspective in Mesoamerican 
Indian historical and present-day culture. 

This account of the paper cult figures 
of Mexico will appeal to Mesoamerican- 

( Continued on back flap) 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2012 







Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Sandstrom, Alan R. 

Traditional papermaking and paper cult figures of Mexico. 

Bibliography: p. 304 

Includes index. 

1. Indians of Mexico— Papermaking. 2. Indians of 
Mexico — Religion and mythology. I. Sandstrom, Pamela EfFrein. 
II. Title. 
F1219.3.P3S26 1986 299*74 85-40947 

ISBN 0-8061-1972-1 (cloth) 

First edition published in 1986 by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 

ISBN 978-0-9882580-1-3 (PDF file) 

Online edition 2012 by Alan R. Sandstrom and Pamela Effrein Sandstrom. 

Dedicated with affection to 
Carlos and Cristina Boi/es 







Paper and the Indians of Middle America 

Paper in the Pre-Columbian World 

The Invention of Papermaking in Middle 

The Destruction of Indian Paper and the 

Decline of Papermaking 
The Survival of Papermaking in Mexico 
Traditional Papermaking Techniques 
The Uses of Paper Among Contemporary Ind 
Xochitlalia: A Nahua-Otomi Crop Fertility 

Events Leading up to the Ritual 
The Cleansing 
The Offering 

The Meaning of Xochitlalia 
The Huasteca Culture Area 
Paper Cult Figures Among Contemporary 

Nahua Indians 
Nahua Disease-causing Spirits 
A Nahua Ritual 

Nahua Witness and Guardian Spirits 
Nahua Seed Spirits 
Nahua Miscellaneous Paper Cuttings 
Paper Cult Figures Among Contemporary 

Otomi Indians 
Otomi Disease-causing Spirits 
An Otomi Ritual 
Otomi Mountain Spirits 
Otomi Seed Spirits 







ians 31 









Otomi Miscellaneous Paper Cuttings 
Paper Cult Figures Among Contemporary 

Tepehua Indians 
Tepehua Disease-causing Spirits 
A Tepehua Ritual 
Tepehua Major Spirits 
Tepehua Seed Spirits 
Tepehua Miscellaneous Paper Cuttings 
The Paper Figure as Art and Cultural Artifact 
Similarities of Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua 

The Pre-Hispanic Basis of the Paper Cult 

Stylistic Features of the Paper Images 
The Place of Paper Images in Indian Thought 

and Culture 
Paper Images as Visual Representations 
The Principle of Unity and the Nature of Deity 
Process of Creation Out of Unity 












1. Nahua seed figures resting in a basket Following page 134 

2. A Nahua shaman prepares paper figures for the 

cleansing ritual 

3. A Nahua shaman chants over an offering to 

Father Earth 

4. A Nahua shaman cleanses the village authorities 

5. A Nahua shaman and village authorities set up an 

altar on the sacred hill 

6. A Nahua shaman chants before the completed 

altar on the sacred hill 

7. Paper images of ejecatl spirits cut by a 

Nahua shaman 

8. A paper image of Death cut by a Nahua shaman 

9. A Nahua family places paper shawls on the graves 

of female kinsmen 

10. A Nahua shaman pours a cane alcohol offering on 

paper images of ejecatl spirits 

1 1. A Nahua shaman chants over an array of ejecatl images 

12. An Otomi bark-paper image of the Lord of the Night 

13. An Otomi bark-paper image of the Spirit of the Grape 

14. An Otomi bark-paper image of the Child of 

the Mountain 



Figure Page 

1. Atl (Water), disease-causing spirit 86 

2. Tlasole Ejecatl (Filth Wind), disease-causing spirit 86 

3. Mictlan Tlasole- Ejecatl (Underworld Filth Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 87 



4. Mictlan Tlasole Ejecatl (Underworld Filth Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 87 

5. Tlali Ejecatl (Earth Wind), disease-causing spirit 88 

6. Atl (Water), disease-causing spirit 88 

7. Apan Ejecatl Siuatl (Water-Woman Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 89 

8. Mictlan Tropa Ejecatl (Underworld Horde Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 89 

9. Tonal Ejecatl (Sun Wind), disease-causing spirit 90 

10. Tonal Ejecatl (Sun Wind), disease-causing spirit 90 

11. Tonal Ejecatl (Sun Wind), disease-causing spirit 91 

12. Miquilistli (Death), death spirit 91 

13. Tlecate Ejecatl (probably from Tlacatecolotl Ejecatl, 

Owl Man Wind), disease-causing spirit 92 

14. Tlali Ejecatl (Earth Wind), disease-causing spirit 92 

15. Tlachichi Ejecatl (Suckling Wind), disease-causing 

spirit 93 

16. Tlali Ejecatl (Earth Wind) or Tecacual Ejecatl (Wind 

from the Ruins), disease-causing spirit 93 

17. Apantlasole Ejecatl (Water Filth Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 94 

18. Apantlasole Ejecatl (Water Filth Wind), 

disease-causing spirit 94 

19. Aixcutla Ejecatl (Wind of the Water-Face Plant or W 7 ater 

Hyacinth?), disease-causing spirit 95 

20. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 95 

21. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 96 

22. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 96 

23. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 97 

24. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 97 

25. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 98 

26. Xochiejecatl (Flowery Wind), disease-causing spirit 98 

27. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Senior Witness), witness spirit 108 

28. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Senior Witness), witness spirit 108 

29. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Senior Witness), witness spirit 109 

30. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Senior Witness), witness spirit 109 

3 1 . Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Senior Witness), witness spirit 1 10 

32. Tlali (Earth), guardian spirit 110 

33. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tepetl) (Hill Witness), 

witness spirit 1 1 1 


34. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tlali) (Earth Witness), 

witness spirit 112 

35. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tepetl) (Hill Witness), 

witness spirit 112 

36. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Guardian) (Guardian-Witness), 

guardian-witness spirit 1 1 3 

37. Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Guardian) (Guardian-Witness), 

guardian-witness spirit 1 1 3 

38. Pilsintsi (Young Maize), seed spirit 115 

39. Pilsintsi (Young Maize), seed spirit 115 

40. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 116 

41. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 117 

42. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 118 

43. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 118 

44. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 119 

45. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 119 

46. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 120 

47. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 120 

48. Sintle (Maize), seed spirit 121 

49. Ayotli (Squash), seed spirit 121 

50. Chile (Chile), seed spirit 122 

51. Coyoli (Palm Nut), seed spirit 122 

52. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 124 

53. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), ox yuyumitl para 

tlaltepactli ("napkin to guard the earth"), altar mat 124 

54. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 125 

55. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 125 

56. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 126 

57. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 126 

58. Tlaxcali yuyumitl ("tortilla napkin"), altar mat 127 

59. Tona (sun), sun 128 


60. Mu Ximhai (Queen of the Bad Earth), disease- 

causing spirit 143 

61. Ra Ze'mi Nge Ra Nitu (President of Hell), 

disease-causing spirit 144 

62. Ra Zitu (Devil or Lord Devil), disease- 

causing spirit 144 

63. Ra Hai Nge Ra Juda (Jew Person or Lord Jew), disease- 

causing spirit 145 


64. Mu Xui (Lord of the Night), disease-causing spirit 145 

65. Mu Huei (Lord of Lightning), disease-causing spirit 146 

66. Mu Ngani (Lord of Thunder), disease-causing spirit 147 

67. Ra Mantezoma (Montezuma), disease-causing spirit 147 

68. Maha The (Water Lady or Wicked Siren), disease- 

causing spirit 148 

69. Mu Behkuni (Lord Rainbow or Rainbow), disease- 

causing spirit 149 

70. Ra Puni (Nagual or Lord Nagual), disease- 

causing spirit 149 

71. Ra Nedani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na (Bull Snout that Does 

Not Respect Parents or Bull Snout that Does Not 
Respect), disease-causing spirit 150 

72. Ra Nefani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na (Horse Snout that 

Does Not Respect Parents or Horse Snout that Does 

Not Respect), disease-causing spirit 151 

73. Ya Yagi (Lightning Bolts or Lord of Lightning Bolts), 

disease-causing spirit 1 5 1 

74. Mu Xandohu (Lord of the Mountain), mountain spirit 163 

75. Nxuni Nge Goho Ra Hya (Eagle with Four Heads), 

mountain spirit 164 

76. Zinzu Nge Ra Mu Xandohu (Bird of the Mountain Lord 

or Little Bird of the Mountain), mountain spirit 165 

77. Zinzu Nge Ra Pase (Bird of the Monkey or Little Bird 

of the Monkey), mountain spirit 165 

78. Zinzu Nge Ra Zo (Bird of the Star or Little Bird of the 

Star), mountain spirit 166 

79. Zinzu Nge Ra Nxuni (Bird of the Eagle or Little Bird 

of the Eagle), mountain spirit 166 

80. Pajarito de Dos Cabezas (Little Bird with Two Heads), 

mountain spirit 167 

81. Ra Muta Nge Ra Tha (Spirit of Maize), seed spirit 170 

82. Dios de Maiz Negro (Spirit of Black Maize), seed spirit 170 

83. Dios de Maiz Amarillo (Spirit of Yellow Maize), 

seed spirit 170 

84. Dios de Mazorca Amarillo (Spirit of Yellow Maize), 

seed spirit 171 

85. Ra Muta Nge Ra Boju (Spirit of the Black Bean), 

seed spirit 171 

86. Ra Muta Nge Ra Maju (Spirit of the Crawling Bean), 

seed spirit 171 


87. Dios de Frijol de Mata Colorado (Spirit of the Red 

Bush Bean), seed spirit 172 

88. Dios de Frijol Torito Blanco (Spirit of the White Bean), 

seed spirit 172 

89. Dios de Frijol Delgado (Spirit of the String Bean), 

seed spirit 172 

90. Dios de Garbanzo (Spirit of the Garbanzo Bean) 

seed spirit 173 

91. Dios de Garbanzo (Spirit of the Garbanzo Bean) 

seed spirit 173 

92. Ra Muta Nge Ra Xitha Temaxi (Spirit of the Tomato), 

seed spirit 173 

93. Ra Muta Nge Ra Temaxi (Spirit of the Tomato), 

seed spirit 174 

94. Dios de Jitomate Arribeno (Spirit of the Tomato), 

seed spirit 174 

95. Dios de Cuatomate Amarillo (Spirit of the Yellow 

Tomato), seed spirit 174 

96. Dios de Tomate Grajillo (Spirit of the Tomato), 

seed spirit 175 

97. Dios de Jitomate (Spirit of the Tomato), seed spirit 175 

98. Ra Muta Nge Ra Ngi (Spirit of Chile), seed spirit 175 

99. Dios de Chile Grande (Spirit of Large Chile), seed spirit 176 

100. Dios de Chile Colorado (Spirit of Red Chile), seed spirit 176 

101. Dios de Chile de Hoja (Spirit of Chile), seed spirit 176 

102. Ra Muta Nge Ra Muza (Spirit of the Banana), seed spirit 177 

103. Dios de Platano Chaparro (Spirit of the Banana), 

seed spirit 177 

104. Dios de Platano Largo (Spirit of the Long Banana), 

seed spirit 177 

105. Dios de Platano Amarillo (Spirit of the Yellow Banana), 

seed spirit 178 

106. Ra Muta Nge Ra Yumpo (Spirit of Sugarcane), 

seed spirit 178 

107. Dios de Cana Jalapeno (Spirit of Jalapan Sugarcane), 

seed spirit 178 

108. Dios de Cana Blanca (Spirit of White Sugarcane), 

seed spirit 179 

109. Ra Muta Nge Ra Jumhai (Spirit of the Peanut), 

seed spirit 179 


110. Dios de Cacahuate Serrano (Spirit of the Mountain 

Peanut), seed spirit 179 

111. Dios de Papa Blanca (Spirit of the White Potato), 

seed spirit 180 

112. Dios de Camote Dulce Blanco (Spirit of the Sweet 

White Camote), seed spirit 180 

113. Dios de Camote (Spirit of the Camote), seed spirit 180 

1 14. Ra Muta Nge Ra K'apaxa (Spirit of the Jicama), 

seed spirit 181 

115. Dios de Jicama (Spirit of the Jicama), seed spirit 181 

116. Ra Muta Nge Ra Tatha (Spirit of the Bee or Spirit of 

the Bee Swarm), "seed" spirit 181 

1 17. Dios de la Colmena de Enjambre (Spirit of the Beehive), 

"seed" spirit 182 

118. Dios de Enjambre (Spirit of the Bee Swarm), 

"seed" spirit 182 

1 19. Ra Muta Nge Ra Kafe (Spirit of Coffee), seed spirit 182 

120. Dios de Cafe (Spirit of Coffee), seed spirit 183 

121. Ra Muta Nge Ra Hwata (Spirit of the Pineapple), 

seed spirit 183 

122. Dios de Pina Serrana (Spirit of the Mountain Pineapple), 

seed spirit 183 

123. Dios de Pina (Spirit of the Pineapple), seed spirit 184 

124. Ra Muta Nge Ra Papaya (Spirit of the Papaya), 

seed spirit 184 

125. Dios de Papaya Erial (Spirit of the Papaya), seed spirit 184 

126. Dios de Espinoso (Spirit of the Thorn Plant), seed spirit 185 

127. Dios de Naranja (Spirit of the Orange), seed spirit 185 

128. Dios de Granada Cordelina (Spirit of the Pomegranate), 

seed spirit 185 

129. Dios de Uva (Spirit of the Grape), seed spirit 186 

130. Dios de Manzana (Spirit of the Apple), seed spirit 186 

131. Dios de Palma (Spirit of the Palm Nut), seed spirit 186 

132. Dios de Aguacate (Spirit of the Avocado), seed spirit 187 

133. Ra Muta Nge Ra Xamu (Spirit of the Chayote), 

seed spirit 187 

134. Dios de Mango (Spirit of the Mango), seed spirit 187 

135. Dios de Platano con Frijoles (Spirit of the Banana with 

Beans or Seedy Banana?), seed spirit 188 

136. Nino del Monte (Child of the Mountain) or Vigilante 

(Watchful One), altar mat 189 


137. Nino del Monte (Child of the Mountain) or Centinela 

(Sentinel), altar mat 189 

138. Nino del Monte (Child of the Mountain) or Flor 

del Cielo (Flower of Heaven), altar mat 190 

139. Nino del Monte (Child of the Mountain) altar mat 190 

140. Servilleta del Monte (Napkin of the Mountain) or 

Escobetilla del Monte (Broomstraw of the Mountain), 

altar mat 191 

141. Servilleta del Monte (Napkin of the Mountain), altar mat 191 

142. Servilleta de Estrella de la Montana (Napkin of the Star 

of the Mountain), altar mat 192 

143. Servilleta de Estrella de la Noche (Napkin of the 

Evening Star), altar mat 192 

144. Cama de Ataque (Attack Bed) or Cama de Antigua 

(Ancient Bed), altar mat 193 

145. Cama de Ataque (Attack Bed) or Silla (Seat), altar mat 193 

146. Gente Mala (Bad People), spirit of bad people 194 

147. Gente Buena (Good People, spirit of good people 194 

148. Ra Zate (Spirit of the Lion), companion spirit 195 

149. Espiritu del Enfermo (Spirit of the Patient) 195 

150. Hyadi (Sun), spirit of the sun 196 

151. Tambor (Drum), spirit of the drum 196 

152. Bid?ih (Teponaztli), spirit of the teponaztli, slit drum 197 

153. Santa Rosa (Sacred Rose) or La Sirena (The Siren), 

marijuana spirit 197 

154a. Spirit of a man for love magic 198 

154b. Spirit of a woman for love magic 198 

154c.Spirits of a man and woman in lovemaking position 198 


1 55a. Lakatikurulh ( Devil), disease-causing spirit ( male) 2 1 3 

155b. Lakatikurulh (Devil), disease-causing spirit (female) 213 

156a. Lakatikurulh (Devil), disease-causing spirit (female) 214 

156b. Lakatikurulh (Devil), disease-causing spirit (male) 214 

156c. Lakatikurulh (Devil), disease-causing spirit (male) 214 

157a.Tlakakikuru (Devil), disease-causing spirit (female) 215 

157b.Tlakakikuru (Devil), disease-causing spirit (male) 215 

158a.Tlakakikuru (Devil), disease-causing spirit 216 

158b.Tlakakikuru (Devil), disease-causing spirit 216 

159. Campo Santo (Graveyard), spirit of the graveyard 217 

160a.Wilhchaan (Sun), spirit of the sun 227 


160b.Wilhchaan (Sun), spirit of the sun 227 

161. Ishqatlmushu Abilcham (Red Sun), spirit of the sun 228 

162a.Xapainin (meaning unknown) (male) 229 

162b.Xapainin (meaning unknown) (male) 229 

163a.Xalapanalakat'un (Lord of the Earth), earth spirit 230 

163b.Xalapanalakat'un (Lord of the Earth), earth spirit 230 

164. Xalapanaak Xkan (Lord of the Water), water spirit 231 

165. Xalapanaak Xkan (Lord of the Water), water spirit 231 

166. Xalapanakun (Lord of the Wind), wind spirit 232 

167. 'Istakuni (Star), star spirit 232 
168a.'Istakuni (Star), star spirit (female) 233 
168b.'Istakuni (Star), star spirit (male) 233 

169. Fuego (Fire), fire spirit 233 

170. Cruz (Cross), cross spirit 234 

171. Cruz-Tierra (Earth-Cross), earth-cross spirit 235 
172a. Maiz (Maize), seed spirit (male) 237 
172b. Maiz (Maize), seed spirit (female) 237 

173. Maiz (Maize), seed spirit 237 

174. Chiltepin (Spirit of Red Chile), seed spirit 238 

175. Platano (Banana), seed spirit 238 
176a.Ixtukuwin (Candle), candle spirit (female) 240 
176b.Ixtukuwfn (Candle), candle spirit (male) 240 
177a.Xtukuwi Lapanak (Spirit of a Man) (male) 241 
177b.Xtukuwi Lapanak (Spirit of a Man) (female) 241 

178. Lakatuhiin Hatupas Diqalh (She Has Seven Thoughts 

or Santa Rosa [Sacred Rose]), marijuana spirit 242 

179. Muneco para enamorarse ("image to make someone fall in 

love") 242 

180. Muneco para enamorarse ("image to make someone fall in 

love") 243 

181. Muneco para enamorarse "(image to make someone fall in 

love") 243 

182. Ish pukuka maqan kan alasanf ("to go and get rid of 

the dead"), altar mat 244 

183. Shaman with copal incense brazier on his head 244 

184. Shaman dancing on the head of a devil 345 

185. Casa (House), house spirit 246 

186. Lakachinchin (Sun Place), shrine spirit 246 


Map of Mexico showing location of the Huasteca region and 

the area of ritual paper use 5 

Xochitlalia cleansing array 40 
Populations of Indian language speakers (five years and older) 

for the nation and the six Huasteca area states 55 


1. Christian saints' days and celebrations 66 

2. The Nahua pantheon 82 

3. Nahua ejecatl spirits 84 

4. Major Nahua rituals 106 

5. The Otomi pantheon 141 

6. Major Otomi rituals 160 

7. The Tepehua pantheon 209 

8. Major Tepehua rituals 225 

9. Symbol classes of contemporary Nahua, Otomi, and 

Tepehua Indians compared with symbol classes of pre- 

Hispanic Mesoamerican Indians 257 



Paper hardly seems a promising subject for a work about 
Mexican Indian religion. Yet we hope to show that this un- 
assuming substance plays an important role in the religious 
life of some of the most traditional Indians in Middle America. 
We will also show that paper has been an important part 
of religious rituals since pre-Hispanic times. But it is not the 
paper that interests us so much as what people do with it, 
and thus what it reveals about their culture. In one remote 
region in east-central Mexico, Indian shamans cut remarkable 
figures from paper for use during sacred ceremonies. This 
region has been little studied by anthropologists, and few out- 
siders have witnessed the rituals in which the figures are used. 
The paper figures depict spirits that the shamans are able to 
summon and influence for the benefit (or harm) of humanity. 
The figures are the central features of rituals, and thus they 
provide a key for gaining insight into the religious beliefs and 
world view of the people who use them. 

The main body of this work is a catalog of more than two 
hundred drawings of the figures with information about each 
spirit that is portrayed. The descriptions of the paper images 
and the ethnographic and historical information accompanying 
the catalog are written from an anthropological perspective for 
the interested nonspecialist. The purpose of the work is to 
inform people about a little-known aspect of Mesoamerican 
Indian history and culture and to provide information on the 
paper images, some of which are now for sale in tourist markets 
in Mexico and elsewhere throughout the world. 

We first became interested in this subject in 1972, during 
an anthropological expedition into the remote regions of the 



southern Huasteca, in the state of Veracruz. There the Indians, 
isolated from the influences of urban Mexico, have been left 
to follow their traditions. After living four or five months in 
a Nahua (modern Aztec) village, we were permitted to witness a 
remarkable ritual dedicated to a pre-Hispanic fertility deity. 
At one point during the proceedings the shaman took out a 
bundle of tissue papers of various colors and, using a pair of 
scissors, began to cut fantastic shapes from individual sheets. 
We had seen the small "paper doll" figures cut from parchment- 
like bark paper, which Otomi Indians from the state of Puebla 
offered for sale in tourist markets and shops specializing in folk 
arts. But at the time we were not aware that other Indians 
also cut them, nor that the paper images are part of a living 
religious tradition. We learned that, besides Nahuas and 
Otomis, Tepehua Indians from the same region also cut and 
use paper images in their rituals. 

Early in the research we realized that to understand prin- 
ciples of Nahua world view, religion, cosmology, and disease 
etiology we had to obtain a representative collection of the 
paper images. As our research continued, it became clear that 
the ideal strategy would be to gather a sample of paper cuttings 
from neighboring groups as well. Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepe- 
huas share aspects of their religious beliefs and myths, and the 
enlarged collection would help delineate the system of spirits 
in the whole culture area. We reasoned that through the sys- 
tematic comparison of all three groups it should be possible to 
gain greater insight into the pantheon of any single group. For 
example, Senor de la Noche (Lord of the Night) seemed to 
be an undefined, ambiguous spirit among the Nahuas, as- 
sociated with the underworld and the spirit Tlauelilo (Devil). 
We wondered why Nahua shamans do not cut a paper image 
of Senor de la Noche. The Otomis, by contrast, do cut an 
image of Senor de la Noche, and we know that one aspect 
of the spirit's role is to serve as gatekeeper of the underworld. 
Thus the Nahuas appear to be in the process of blending 
Senor de la Noche with Tlauelilo, and the status of this spirit 
among the Nahuas becomes clearer. 


Since paper images are usually destroyed during rituals and 
the inexpensive tissue paper favored by most shamans disinte- 
grates after a few months, we decided to make color photo- 
graphic transparencies of each specimen. Transparencies are 
durable and lend themselves to exact reproduction of the ritual 
figures because they can be fitted into a microfilm reader and 
the images projected and traced onto paper. At first we in- 
cluded only specimens that we collected ourselves, but later we 
added examples from private collections, from the few pub- 
lished sources on the cultures of the area, and from shops spe- 
cializing in folk art. All available ethnographic information on 
the figures is recorded on edge- notched data cards, which are 
catalogued and indexed for easy retrieval. At present we have 
more than one thousand specimens in the archives, of which 
the examples in chapters 4 to 6 are representative. We have 
made the drawings of the paper images from the original slides 
by tracing them and then reducing the traces by means of a grid 
scale; they are accurate to the smallest detail. Sometimes the 
shamans make errors in cutting, which result in slight asym- 
metries. In the interest of accuracy even these small mistakes 
have been preserved in the drawings. 

The chapters which follow provide the background necessary 
for an understanding of the paper images. Chapter 1 is a brief 
history of paper manufacture and use among pre-Hispanic In- 
dian civilizations. It also includes an account of the scholarly 
debate over the source of the fibers the Indian craftsmen used 
for the paper— a debate which led to the discovery, at the turn 
of the century, of the papermaking Indians who live in the 
southern Huasteca and its border regions. Chapter 2 is a de- 
scription and analysis of a Nahua-Otomi seed ritual which 
illustrates how the paper images are actually used by contempo- 
rary shamans. In chapter 3 a discussion of the history, geog- 
raphy, and Indian cultures of the paper-using region is pre- 
sented. Chapter 4 is an outline of Nahua religion, followed by 
a catalog of fifty-nine paper figures with annotations. Chapter 
5 is an outline of Otomi religion, followed by a catalog of 
ninety-seven paper images, fifty-nine of which were cut from 


traditional bark paper. Many of these figures are available com- 
mercially, and this chapter can be especially useful to those 
interested in identifying examples they have purchased. In 
chapter 6 a description of Tepehua religion is followed by a 
catalog of forty-four paper images used in Tepehua rituals. 
Chapters 4 to 6 include lists of the major rituals held by each 
group. After the concluding chapter is a bibliography of pub- 
lished works relating to the cultural use of paper among Indians 
of Mexico. 

In the pages that follow, we present a descriptive treatment 
of one aspect of Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua religion. What 
little ethnographic work has been done on the paper-using 
cultures is scattered, difficult to find, and published in a va- 
riety of languages. The first step in any scientific analysis is 
description, and toward that end we have attempted to organize 
what is known about the paper cult while adding findings from 
our own research. We do not yet have a full understanding of 
how the religions are integrated with other aspects of the 
sociocultural systems of which they are a part. Furthermore, 
we lack comprehensive data on native cosmologies and myths, 
the systems of logic whereby the various spirits can be related 
to each other, and the ecological dimensions of ritual perform- 
ance. Despite these gaps in knowledge enough is known to 
allow us to make suggestions for interpreting the paper-cult 
religions. We have reserved these suggestions for the concluding 
chapter. Our fundamental purpose in writing the work, how- 
ever, is to stimulate an interest in this most fascinating and at 
the same time neglected area of Mesoamerican research. 

The catalogs contain all the available information about each 
cutting. The name of the paper figure, when known, is given 
in three languages: Indian, Spanish, and finally English trans- 
lation. Also included is information on the material from which 
the image is cut. Figures cut from traditional bark paper are 
labeled as such, while those made from industrially manufac- 
tured paper are indicated simply by identifying the color of 
paper used. Next the dimensions of the original are given in 
centimeters. Certain of the seed figures cut by Otomi Indians 


living in the village of San Pablito are made from layers of 
tissue paper that have been sewn together. The top layer is 
cut in such a way that differently colored layers underneath are 
revealed. These are indicated by crosshatching, and the colors 
of both the first and the second layers of paper are given. 
Questionable information has been omitted from the catalogs. 
The terminology used throughout the book requires some ex- 
planation. When they are speaking Spanish, the Indians call 
the paper images munecos de papel ("paper dolls"). Although some 
other researchers use this phrase, we decided to avoid it, for 
several reasons. First, shamans cut more forms than just the 
doll-like anthropomorphic images. Second, to people of West- 
ern European cultural heritage the phrase "paper doll" brings 
to mind children's games. We use the terms "paper figure" or 
"paper image" throughout this work. Another term used here 
is "shaman." This refers to any part-time religious specialist 
who is considered by his or her peers to possess extraordinary 
knowledge about religious myths and beliefs and who has the 
ability to summon and manipulate the spirits. The word "ritual" 
is used throughout the book in its nontechnical sense of any 
series of symbolic acts, usually under the direction of a shaman, 
designed to influence spirit entities. "Cult" is used to mean a 
system of ritual practices surrounding a particular symbolic form 
or material. The title of the book has two meanings and is 
intended to emphasize the importance of paper in Indian ritual 
life. Finally, the term "spirit" itself is problematic. The Indians 
often use the Spanish word espiritu when describing the unseen 
forces depicted in the paper figures. Evidence suggests, however, 
that what they mean by "spirit" is something like a life-force 
or nonpersonalized shadow soul (see chapters 4 to 6). They do 
not, for example, believe that the human personality survives 
death, but rather that the essence or life-force of the person 
goes to the afterlife (Provost 1981). The term "spirit" is used 
throughout the work in preference to "deity," "god," "soul," 
or "life-force" simply because it seems to be the closest English 
equivalent to the Indians' concept as expressed in the paper 


Information on the seed ritual (chapter 2), the Huasteca 
culture area (chapter 3), and the Nahua religion (chapter 4) 
comes largely from our own fieldwork. Chapters 5 and 6, which 
contain descriptions of Otomi and Tepehua religion, along with 
catalogs of their paper images, are based on information from 
published and unpublished works of ethnographers and travel- 
ers. All publications consulted in the writing of this work are 
cited throughout and listed in the bibliography. We wish to 
thank Paul Jean Provost, James Dow, and the late Charles 
Boiles for allowing us to use specimens along with ethnographic 
data from their private collections. Other specimens were taken 
from our own archives and from the published works of Bodo 
Spranz, Bodil Christensen, Roberto Williams Garcia, and 
Robert Gessain. 

We have translated into English the Spanish names of the 
spirits found in the catalogs and have provided translations for 
many of the quotations from ethnohistorical sources. We would 
like to thank David Oberstar for his help in deciphering some 
of the more ambiguous sixteenth-century Spanish phrases. Ad- 
ditional editorial help was provided by John A. Mead, Steven 
Hollander, Paul Jean Provost, and Steven Harroff, all of whom 
have our gratitude. We would like to extend our gratitude to 
Evon Z. Vogt for making the resources of Harvard University 
available to us while we were writing the final draft of the 
manuscript. We would also like to thank Nancy Schmidt, 
former librarian of the Tozzer Library of the Peabody Museum 
of Archaeology and Ethnology, for carrel space and for permis- 
sion to use the partial translation of Schwede's report of 1912 
(catalogued in the unpublished "Miscellaneous Mexican and 
Central American Pamphlets," vol. 3, no. 8). At Indiana Uni- 
versity-Purdue University at Fort Wayne we particularly ap- 
preciate the bibliographic skills of Ruth Harrod, who obtained 
for us many of the obscure sources consulted during the writing 
of the book. We are also grateful to Guy Stresser-Pean, head 
of the French scientific mission in Mexico, who read the manu- 
script and made many valuable suggestions. Finally, thanks go 
to Marci Irey, who typed the manuscript, and to John A. 
Mead, who provided invaluable assistance. 


Significant collections of paper figures are found in the 
Mathers Museum of Anthropology at Indiana University, 
Bloomington, Indiana, and the National Museum of Anthro- 
pology and History, Mexico City. 

Alan R. Sandstrom 
Pamela Effrein Sandstrom 

Municipio of Ixhuatldn de Madero, 
Veracruz, Mexico 




In 1900 an American anthropologist named Frederick Starr 
made a remarkable discovery in a remote mountainous area in 
east-central Mexico. Starr was leading a small expedition that 
had been searching for traditional Indians in the Mexico out- 
back. He was intrigued by information he had received that 
some Indians in the region continued to produce handmade 
bark paper for use in their religious rituals. Up to that time 
it was thought that papermaking had died out hundreds of 
years earlier under the repressive rule of the Spaniards. 

Starr's search for papermaking was unsuccessful until he en- 
tered the Otomi village San Pablito, in the state of Puebla. 
There, after asking repeatedly, he was shown a small packet of 
paper made from the inner bark of certain trees. Later he was 
able to witness women pounding the bark fibers into thin sheets, 
which were then placed in the sun to dry. Starr had discovered 
that in remote mountain villages the ancient craft of paper- 
making survived. He was the first outsider to witness and de- 
scribe the technique since the sixteenth century. 

After collecting sheets of bark paper to take with him, he 
discovered quite by accident what the paper was used for. In 
neighboring villages he had seen small statuettes, which, he was 
told, were venerated during elaborate rites. He was curious 
whether the people of San Pablito also used statuettes in their 
rituals. While searching through a small shrine, he found large 
numbers of cut-paper images covering an altar. He wrote about 
them that u the most curious was cut into groups of human 
figures, some of which had crowns and horns, or tufts of hair, 
upon the top of their heads. These were said to be decorations 
for Montezuma, in whose honor [a] feast was given" (Starr 


1978 [1908], p. 260). Thus not only papermaking survived but 
also apparently many of the beliefs and rituals associated with 
the craft. In fact, what Starr had discovered was an entire 
religious complex, shared by neighboring Indian groups, in 
which paper was used as a medium to portray and communi- 
cate with important spirits. In these religions paper was the 
most important symbolic medium employed in rituals. 

Since Starr's discovery anthropologists and other interested 
people have begun gathering information on the Indian cul- 
tures that continue to flourish in the region. The research is 
still incomplete, leaving us with a fragmentary idea of the 
nature and structure of religious beliefs and rituals and other 
aspects of culture. In this book we attempt to show how paper 
cutouts are used and to uncover some of the key ideas they 
express. The pages that follow include a catalog of more than 
two hundred selected cutouts, along with descriptions of four 
of the rituals in which they are used. 

Paper figures are central features of rituals, and thus know- 
ing what the figures mean gives us insight into what the rituals 
are about. We are not always able to provide as much religious 
and cultural context as we would like, but each figure we dis- 
cuss, either as an individual specimen or because it completes 
a series of figures that are used together, increases what is 
known about the total religious complex. 

The idea that paper has sacred qualities seems strange to 
people living in modern societies of the Western European 
tradition. Paper so surrounds us that it has become background 
material, scarcely noticed by most of us. And yet hours that 
are not spent reading from it are often spent writing on it. 
Babies are wrapped in it; the most important or trivial infor- 
mation is recorded on it; it cleans windshields and serves as 
money. Paper is sometimes even a focus of our frustrations 
with modern life. Bureaucrats are called paper pushers, and 
workers often say they like their jobs except for the paperwork. 
It has become associated with the insubstantial, leading fiscal 
conservatives, for example, to rail against paper money. The 
fact is, however, that anything produced in such abundance 


and available so widely at such low prices surely has far greater 
importance to the society than our indifference or even hostility 
to it implies. For better or for worse, and computers notwith- 
standing, paper is fundamental to the development and con- 
tinuance of modern society. 

The Indians of Middle America, by contrast, have long valued 
paper as an important commodity. For them it was and still 
is a substance of dignity and beauty, produced by craftsmen 
and treated with care. At least three contemporary Indian 
groups continue to use cut paper as an integral part of their 
religious rituals and curing ceremonies. The Nahuas (modern 
Aztecs), Otomis, and Tepehuas of the southern Huasteca re- 
gion cut paper images of important spirits whom they wish to 
propitiate. Of these, as far as we know, only the Otomis con- 
tinue to produce the bark paper once so important to pre-Colum- 
bian civilizations. 1 In all three cultures there is an increased 
use of industrially manufactured paper because it is readily 


available and comes in a variety of colors. Despite this reliance 
on mass-produced paper, the use of paper in rituals by con- 
temporary Indians traces back directly to the great pre-Colum- 
bian civilizations. In fact, many of the religious concepts that 
contemporary Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua shamans express 
through their paper cuttings have been in existence since pre- 
Columbian times. To explain the use of paper by contemporary 
Indians and to help counteract our own tendency to under- 
value this important substance, we present below a brief history 
of paper use among Middle American Indians. Included is an 
account of the people and the events that led to Starr's re- 
markable discovery at the turn of the century. 


The ancient civilizations of Middle America still fascinate the 
world almost five hundred years after Hernan Cortes and his 
fellow Spaniards landed in what is now the state of Veracruz, 
Mexico. By the time the Spaniards arrived in 1519, the people 
of Middle America had a tradition of settled life stretching 
back for thousands of years. Middle American civilizations 
had large population centers, monumental architecture, highly 
stratified social classes, standing armies, and written documents 
— features that are the hallmarks of "civilization" (literally, 
u city life ,, ) everywhere. There was much to be learned from 
these New World civilizations. Unfortunately, the mission of 
Cortes was to add new lands to the Spanish Empire and to 
accumulate personal wealth rather than knowledge. In the 
course of this mission he set out to replace the aboriginal sys- 
tem with one based on the Spanish model. Thus indigenous 
governments were destroyed and -replaced with the Spanish 
viceroyalty system, the armies and traditional class structures 
of local city-states were dismantled, and the temples devoted 
to native gods were supplanted by Christian churches. 

At the time of the Spanish invasion, the Mexica, or Aztecs, 
were the primary military, economic, and social power in the 
region. They had subjugated neighboring city-states and forged 
a tribute empire that included millions of people. The Spaniards 


under Cortes hit upon a plan to defeat the Aztecs and thereby 
gain control of the entire region. Almost immediately upon 
arriving, they set about winning allies among the subject states 
of the empire; less than three years later the Spaniards con- 
trolled most of Mesoamerica. The cities that had been the 
seats of Middle American civilization came under Spanish do- 
minion, and the transformation of Indian culture followed 
shortly thereafter. Because the Aztecs were the supreme power 
in sixteenth-century Mexico, most of what we know about Mid- 
dle American civilizations is based upon them. Our understand- 
ing of the history and culture of civilizations that declined before 
the arrival of the Spaniards comes largely from archaeology. 
As the Aztec empire grew and prospered, the demand for 
raw materials and luxury goods increased significantly. In addi- 
tion to precious stones and metals, feathers, and decorative 
clothing, one of the most sought-after items in ancient Mexico 
was handmade paper. It was of special importance to the Az- 
tecs, who valued it as almost a sacred substance. Local crafts- 
men in the Aztec capital and traveling merchants were unable 
to meet the demand for paper, and it thus became a primary 
object of tribute. Paper was not only an article of tribute but 
also a medium for keeping tribute records. Aztec scholars had 
developed a partly phonetic picture writing that was used to 
record the exact amounts of various goods owed by each of 
the conquered provinces. In fact, the followers of Cortes used 
these records to direct their military campaigns so that they 
could recover the maximum plunder (Diaz del Castillo 1944 
[1568-84], 2:314). An early viceroy of New Spain (Mexico), 
Don Antonio de Mendoza, ordered one of the tribute lists to 
be copied and sent to the Spanish court, probably to show the 
wealth of the new colony. The document, which has come 
down to us as the Codex Mendoza, has proved to be an in- 
valuable early historical record. It names forty-two cities and 
towns in which paper was made and specifies that 480,000 
sheets of paper were to be collected each year from just two 
of the named places (Lenz 1946, p. 695; and Marti 1971, p. 
53). The Codex Mendoza gives us at least some idea of the 


immense quantities of paper that flowed into the Aztec capital 
each year. 

Paper was eagerly sought by the Aztecs, who put it to a 
variety of uses. Besides employing it as a medium for the keep- 
ing of tribute records, they used it in the manufacture of books 
(although sometimes animal parchment was used instead). Only 
a few of these books, called codices, survive today. They were 
made by folding a single long sheet of material accordian-style, 
like a screen or a fan. Decorated slabs of wood or leather 
were glued on each end as covers or binders. Both the front 
and the back of the folded strip were filled with the colorful 
picture writing of the Indian scribes. We know that, in addi- 
tion to the Aztecs, the Mayas, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Toltecs 
produced books. In fact, probably all major groups in Middle 
America made and kept books. The word for book in Nahuatl, 
the Aztec language, is amoxtli; books were housed in libraries 
called amoxcalli, amoxpialoyan, or amoxtlatiloyan (Molina 1944 
[1571], p. 5). Probably the largest library was in the city of 
Texcoco, an Aztec ally in the Valley of Mexico. The library 
building at Texcoco was constructed of stone and is said to 
have contained thousands of manuscripts (Von Hagen 1977 
[1944], p. 22). The libraries at Cholula and the Aztec capital 
of Tenochtitlan followed that of Texcoco in importance (Lenz 
1973 [1948], p. 40). 

Since so few of the codices have survived, it is difficult to 
say with certainty what they contained. The sixteenth-century 
Franciscan cleric Fray Toribio Benavente, known as Motolinia, 
wrote concerning the codices: 

There were, among these people five [types of] books, as I said, 
of figures and characters: the first speaks of the years and time; 
the second of the days and celebrations they held throughout the 
year; the third speaks of dreams and auguries, illusions and vani- 
ties in which they believed; the fourth is of baptism and names 
they gave children; the fifth is on the rites, ceremonies and auguries 
related to matrimony. . . . they had various orders and ways of 
counting the same time periods and years, celebrations and days. 
... at the same time they wrote and recorded the deeds and 


stories of war (and also) the succession of the principal lords, of 
tempests and plagues, and at which time and under which ruler 
these happened, and all those who ruled and dominated this land 
until the Spanish arrived. All this they have in characters and 

This book I speak of is called in the Indian language xihutonal 
amatl, which means book of the count of the years. [Motolinfa 
1971 [1536-41?], p. 5] 2 

Other books contained methods of divination, cures for dis- 
eases, histories of ancient times, genealogies, methods for learn- 
ing to read the codices, information on plants and animals, 
maps, paintings recording land ownership, poetry, songs, and 
agricultural calendars (Peterson 1962, p. 235). Many pre-Co- 
lumbian books were of a sacred character and probably dealt 
with the complex magico-religious system that was connected 
with the calendar and astronomical observations. The Aztecs 
called these sacred books teoamoxtli. 

Thus, among the peoples of Middle America a connection 
was made between the books, most of which were made from 
paper, and the religious system. It was primarily upon paper 
that records of the sacred rites, prayers, and calendar were 
written. Books were probably kept in each temple so that the 
priests could consult them regularly. Only the priests, nobles, 
and a few scribes had the knowledge to decipher the writing, 
a skill learned in an institution of higher learning called the 
calmecac. To the ordinary person the books undoubtedly had 
a semisacred status, and the paper from which they were made 
was held in some reverence. 

Evidence. for the sacred nature of paper can be seen in its 
use during religious rituals. Virtually every Aztec rite included 
the adorning of statues or sacred objects with paper. Called 
amatetehuitl, these paper adornments were cut to the proper 
shape and were usually decorated with drops of latex before 
being used. Often they were dyed or painted to correspond to 
the symbolic colors of a particular deity (Lenz 1973 [1948], 
pp. 14ff.). 

We owe much of our knowledge of the details of Aztec 


rituals to the sixteenth-century Franciscan monk Fray Bernar- 
dino de Sahagun, who produced a multivolume archive of in- 
formation called Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana 
(General History of the Things of New Spain; 1950-69 [1575- 
80?]). Sahagun devotes one entire volume to the calendrical 
observances of the Aztecs, all of which involved the use of paper 
in some way. Statues were adorned with paper headdresses 
(amacopilli, or amacalli), while other images of deities were given 
paper helmets {amatzoncalli; Molina 1944 [1571], p. 4). Papers 
were carefully arranged and placed with the dead to facilitate 
the soul's journey through the nine levels of the underworld 
(Sahagun 1950-69 [1575-80?], pt. 4, bk. 3, pp. 41ff.). Latex- 
spotted paper was the common offering to the tlalocs, or rain 
deities (Thompson 1941, p. 64), and sacrificial victims were 
often dressed in paper regalia before they were killed. During 
certain holy days houses were adorned with latex-spotted paper 
streamers or flags called amapantli'm honor of the deities (Lenz 
1973 [1948], p. 30). In addition, the priests were often dressed 
in elaborate paper costumes during rituals, particularly when 
they were impersonating deities. 

One of the more remarkable rituals recorded by Sahagun 
was held in the fifth month, toxcatl, and was dedicated to the 
sun god Huitzilopochtli: 

They made still another ornament to honor this god, and which 
consisted of an enormous piece of paper, twenty fathoms (six feet 
each) long by one in width, and one finger thick. This paper was 
carried by a number of strong young men in front of the image 
[of Huitzilopochtli]. . . . [T]he image . . . was raised onto the 
shoulders of a number of captains and warriors who, grouped on 
either side, carried it like a litter with the long paper always in 
front. Thus they proceeded in a procession, singing the songs to the 
god and dancing before him in a solemn dance. Arriving at the 
foot of the temple steps, . . . [t]hose who carried the large paper 
again mounted ahead of the statue, and to prevent tearing it, those 
who climbed first at once began rolling the paper up with great 
care. ... As soon as the statue had reached the top they placed 
it where it belonged on its throne or chair, and they laid in front 
of the platform the roll of paper securely tied, to prevent its un- 
rolling. [Sahagun 1932 [1575-80?], bk. 2, pp. 85-86] 


Sahagun and other sixteenth-century observers recorded 
scores of rituals which featured the use of paper. Many of the 
smaller rites involved the sacrifice of paper, usually by burning: 

Those who, through the advice of their astrologers, were able to 
ward off a disease, chose a very lucky day, and on that day burned, 
in the hearth of their homes, a great many papers on which the 
astrologer had painted with u Hi {gum) the images of all those gods 
who, they guessed, . . . had helped them to ward off that illness. 
The astrologer (after thus painting them) handed them to the man 
who made the offering, telling him (the name of) the god painted 
thereon; the man then burned all the papers; they gathered the 
ashes and buried them in the courtyard of the home. [Sahagun 
1932 [1575-80?], bk. 2, app., pp. 159-60] 

It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of paper to the 
pre-Columbian peoples of Middle America. Examples of how 
it was used could be listed almost indefinitely. Two more re- 
corded uses of paper will help draw the connection between 
how paper was used in pre-Columbian times and how it is 
employed among contemporary Indians. Excavations at the 
great pre- Aztec city of Teotihuacan and at certain Maya sites 
have uncovered strange anthropomorphic statues with well- 
sculptured heads but amorphous bodies (Lenz 1973 [1948], 
pp. 35-36). Archaeologists have interpreted these statues as 
images of messenger spirits used by the devout to communicate 
with more powerful and distant deities. It is thought that the 
bodies were wrapped in paper by devotees wishing their prayers 
to be heard (Heyden 1975, pp. 346-47). 

Another interesting use of paper is recorded by Sahagun. In 
a section called "The Merchants, " the great sixteenth-century 
ethnographer records the ritual performed by the pochtecas (trav- 
eling merchants) before they left on one of their dangerous 
missions. On the night preceding their departure they cut a 
series of papers to propitiate various protector deities. First 
they cut a banner-shaped length of paper with forked ends 
to represent the fire god. They then decorate the paper with 
melted latex: 

And thus they did paint the paper: they gave it lips, nose, eyes. 


It resembled a man. Thus they did make a representation of the 
fire (god). 

Then they cut the (paper) which pertained to the earth (god), 
whom they called tlaltecutli. He was bound about the chest with 
paper; also with the liquid rubber they gave him lips, nose, eyes. 
He also resembled a man. [Sahagun 1950-69 [1575-80?], pt. 10, 
bk. 9, pp. 9-11] 

The ritual continues as the pochtecas paint several more 
deities on paper. When the paintings are completed, they lay 
them out in the courtyard. Then, standing before the fire, 
they behead sacrificial quails and draw their own blood by 
piercing their ears and tongues. They offer the blood to the 
fire and then scatter it upon the papers. Finally they cast the 
papers into the fire to see how they burn; if the papers crackle 
and do not burn well, it is considered a bad sign. Afterward 
the paper ashes are buried in the courtyard of the sponsoring 

We have, then, in Middle American civilizations a pattern 
in which paper is closely associated with the religious system. 
Theology and instructions for carrying out rituals were painted 
in sacred books. Paper was used to adorn statues and priests 
when they dressed as deities. It was also used to dress sacri- 
ficial victims, and, when burned, it became a direct offering to 
the gods. Paper played a significant role in medical practices, 
being part of rituals held to ward off disease. In the ritual just 
described, it was used as a medium for portraying deities so 
that they would protect the traveling merchants. The same 
ritual also contained a sequence in which paper was burned as 
a technique for divining the future. Slips of paper accompanied 
the dead on their journey to the underworld and were sacri- 
ficed in appeals for rain. They were offered to deities to avoid 
bad luck or to counteract the harmful effects of a birth on an 
astrologically unfortunate day. In sum, paper acted as a kind of 
messenger or go-between, providing a medium of communi- 
cation between the human and spirit worlds. 


It is not known exactly when the Middle American Indians 


invented the technique of papermaking. The historical records 
we have suggest that paper manufacture and use were wide- 
spread throughout the region by the time the Spaniards arrived 
in 1519. This suggests that the invention of paper may have 
been ancient. Most authorities are convinced that the Mayas 
of the Yucatan were the first to produce paper (Lenz 1946, 
p. 694; Von Hagen 1977 [1944], p. 10). Early in their history 
the Mayas produced a kind of tapa cloth from the inner bark 
of certain trees; several Indian groups in the region and farther 
down into Central America still make tunics from this material. 
Bark-cloth manufacture apparently evolved into papermaking, 
although when this occurred is not known. The Mayas call 
their paper huun, and it is possible that when the Toltecs or 
pre-Toltec peoples made contact with the Mayas they carried 
the papermaking techniques back to the central plateau. Tol- 
tec history is extremely sketchy, but it appears that by a.d. 
660 pre-Toltec peoples possessed a sacred book, which included 
a "History of Heaven and Earth" (Von Hagen 1977 [1944], 
pp. 11-12). Also, the Mayas stopped erecting dated stone stelae 
at the end of the ninth century, a fact which has led one 
authority to suggest that this is the period when they began to 
keep records exclusively on paper (Von Hagen 1977 [1944], 
p. 69). This suggestion is little more than a guess, however, 
since there is no evidence that the pre-Toltecs or earliest Mayas 
were using paper as a writing surface. 

Archaeology can throw some light on the question of the 
antiquity of papermaking in Middle America. While paper dis- 
integrates unless it is carefully stored and preserved, some of 
the tools used to manufacture it are made of durable stone. 
Most traditional paper used in Middle America was made 
either from the inner bark of trees belonging to the family 
Moraceae, which includes the figs (Ficus) and mulberry plants 
(Moms), or from the leaves of species of maguey, a succulent. 
The Aztec word for paper is amatl, the same word used for 
the trees from which it is made. Preparation of the paper 
required that the loose fibers be felted together with a beater, 
called an amauitequini 'in Nahuatl (Molina 1944 [1571], p. 4), 
which was typically made from a grooved stone. These stones 


are found in archaeological sites throughout the zone in Middle 
America where the plants used in papermaking grow. An early 
site where beaters have been found and dated is the prehis- 
toric city of Teotihuacan. The stones at this site have been 
dated to the sixth century a.d., which gives an approximate 
time for the appearance of papermaking in the highlands (Cook 
de Leonard 1971, p. 221; Johnson 1971, pp. 316-17; Lenz 
1973 [1948], pp. 9, 36; Tolstoy 1971, p. 292). 

Most anthropologists interested in Middle America believe 
that virtually all culture traits found there developed indepen- 
dently. Suggestions that specific traits may derive from the 
Near East or Asia typically are met with derision. Poorly re- 
searched theories of early culture contact have hardened the 
case against such diffusionist explanations. A few scholars (e.g., 
Meggers 1975; Schneider 1977), however, have presented more 
sophisticated evidence to suggest contact between the New and 
Old Worlds. Among these Paul Tolstoy (1963) has examined 
the remarkable similarities in the manufacture of bark cloth 
and bark paper in Mesoamerica and Southeast Asia. He notes 
that the earliest documented paper beater found in Mesoamerica 
comes from Pacific Coast Guatemala and is dated to approxi- 
mately 1000 b.c. This is later than similar artifacts found in 
Southeast Asia, pointing to an older industry there. After pre- 
senting a detailed comparison of bark-cloth and bark-paper 
manufacturing techniques, Tolstoy concludes that his findings 
appear to 

justify a strong case for the introduction from Asia of the Meso- 
american bark cloth and paper complex into the area of upper 
Central America and the isthmus of Tehuantepec toward the be- 
ginning of the 1st millenium b.c. Its most likely source appears 
to have been some part of eastern Southeast Asia, on the periphery 
of Chinese cultural influence. [Tolstoy 1963, p. 661] 

This conclusion is controversial, however, and the issue of the 
origin of papermaking in Mesoamerica remains a subject of 

One legacy of the ancient importance of paper is found in 
present-day place-names. Many villages, towns, and cities in 


Mexico have retained their Indian names, although typically 
the sounds have been hispanicized. The pre-Columbian Indians 
often named a place for a historical or mythical event, a product 
for which the area was renowned, or some major activity of the 
people (Davila Garibi 1942, pp. 8-9). Many towns in central 
Mexico preserve their original Nahuatl names. Some were 
named for scribes, writing, or the painting of hieroglyphics: 
Amaculi, in the state of Durango, from amatl, "paper," and 
cuiloa, "to paint"; Cuilco, in Chiapas, meaning "place where 
they write"; Tlacuiloca, in Tlaxcala, meaning "place where 
there are writers or painters"; and Tlacuilotepec, in Puebla, 
meaning "town of scribes" (Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 39). Other 
places in Mexico were named for paper trees and the paper- 
making activities of their inhabitants: Amatitan-caz, in Puebla, 
meaning "place where paper is made": Amatitlan, in Morelos, 
"place of many paper trees" or "much paper"; Amayuca ( Ama- 
yocan), in Morelos, "place where paper is made"; Amazonco 
(Amatzonco), also in Morelos, meaning "place of papermaking 
fibers"; Amecameca (Amaquemecan), in the state of Mexico, 
meaning "place where they wear paper tunics"; and Amapala 
(Amatlapala), in Sinaloa, meaning "place of paper sheets" or 
"place where manufactured paper abounds" (Lenz 1973 [1948], 
pp. 64-66). The wide distribution of paper-related activities 
gives further evidence of the antiquity and importance of this 
substance to the peoples of Middle America. 


With the emphasis placed on paper, an emphasis so great that 
Von Hagen has called sixteenth-century Mexican society the 
"paper world of the Aztecs" (Von Hagen 1977 [1944], pp. 
77ff.), it is legitimate to ask why so little has survived to mod- 
ern times. The pitifully few codices and loose sheets that re- 
main must represent an infinitesimal percentage of the holdings 
of a single library. It also appears that none of the papers 
used for adornment or sacrifice have survived. One would think 
that souvenirs, at least, would have been collected by the Span- 


ish soldiers or newly arriving colonists. Undoubtedly much 
paper was destroyed during the wars waged by Cortes and his 
soldiers. Of far greater importance, however, is the attitude of 
the conquerors toward the subjugated natives of Mexico. Part 
of the ideology of conquest was that the Indians had fallen in 
league with the devil and that all vestiges of the traditional 
culture must be rooted out. This policy was particularly applied 
to anything connected with the native religion. Thus one of the 
first official acts was to dismantle the temples and disperse the 
worshipers. The European invaders smashed the statues, de- 
stroyed the altars, and killed the priests. 

Paper was so closely connected to Aztec and Maya religious 
practices that it too was systematically destroyed. Two sixteenth- 
century clerics, Fray Juan de Zumarraga and Fray Diego de 
Landa, played a major role in the destruction of native libraries. 
Soon after 1529, Zumarraga, bishop of Mexico, ordered the 
Aztec libraries emptied and the books brought to the town of 
Tlatelolco. u He then caused them to be piled up in a 'moun- 
tain-heap'— as it is called by the Spanish writers themselves— 
in the market-place of Tlatelolco, and reduced them all to 
ashes!" (Prescott 1843, 1:90). Diego de Landa arrived in 1549 
and was assigned to work among the Mayas. He destroyed 
temples and searched out the sacred books. Finally in 1561 
he located a great archive of sacred texts. He wrote: 

These people also used certain characters or letters with which 
they wrote in their books concerning ancient things and their 
sciences. With these figures and certain signs of the same type, 
they understood their things and explained and taught them. We 
found a great number of books of these letters and because they 
contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil, 
we burned them all, which the people felt most deeply and which 
gave them much sorrow. [Landa 1938 [1566?], p. 207] 3 

The sorrow is felt to this day; we will never know the extent 
of our loss. 

After the defeat of the Aztec armies by Cortes and his In- 
dian allies, the ancient tradition of papermaking began to de- 
cline. The Spaniards who took over the tribute empire saw no 


profit in continuing the flow of native paper into the capital. 
They concentrated on stamping out all activities related to the 
old religion and sought forcibly to convert the Indians to Chris- 
tianity. Many people were killed during the inquisition that 
followed, and countless others died from dislocation, disease, 
and forced labor. Huge areas of Mexico were almost depopu- 
lated by the colonial policies. Town after town and village after 
village ceased making the paper that was so intimately a part 
of traditional ritual observances. But the greatest culture loss 
occurred in the urban centers and towns. There the Spanish 
colonial authorities had their seats of power, and there policies 
could be carried out most efficiently. Life in the small, isolated 
villages, while greatly affected, was far more difficult to control, 
even though missionaries were sent into the remotest regions 
to exterminate the old religion. Many Indians hid their activi- 
ties from the authorities and maintained the old beliefs by 
combining them with the outward trappings of Christian prac- 
tices. To this day the greatest survival of the ancient religion 
is in the most remote areas. 

In the centuries that followed the Aztec defeat, occasional 
signs hinted that the traditional religion was still vigorous in 
the provinces. In 1635, in the remote Tutotepec region, some 
Otomi k idolators" were discovered conducting a non-Christian 
ritual in three huts filled with ceremonial items. On the altars 
were incense, sacrificial fowl, and paper cut into strips called 
"vestments of the gods." The shrine was run, according to the 
Augustinian who recorded the event, by seudoprofetas ("false 
prophets"), priests, and their disciples. In the rituals the sun, 
the moon, air, water, harvest, and a mountain god were ven- 
erated (Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 115-16). In the Oaxaca region 
in 1684 Nicholas de la Cruz Contreras and his associates were 
caught with sacred bundles made of paper splattered with blood 
and were brought to trial for idolatry. In the same area in 
1700 are recorded other incidents in which blood-spotted paper 
was used in connection with traditional rituals. One rite in- 
volved cutting an image of the devil out of paper. In 1889, 
again in the same region, a priest wrote of "idolatries" prac- 


ticed to cure sickness and to ask for rain, abundant harvests, 
and protection from lightning (Gillow 1889, pp. 82, 203ff.; 
app., pp. 123ft; cited in Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 115-19). Ten 
years later, in a similarly remote area, Frederick Starr made 
his remarkable discovery. 


The discovery that contemporary Indians continue to make 
paper and to use it in their sacred rituals is connected with 
a curious debate that arose among scholars interested in both 
pre-Columbian civilizations and modern Indian culture. For 
centuries the chroniclers, historians, and scholars who wrote 
about indigenous Middle America have known of the impor- 
tance of paper in religious practices. A controversy developed, 
however, over the material from which the paper was made. 
It began with an article entitled "Mexican Paper" published 
by Philipp J. J. Valentini in the October 1880 Proceedings of 
the American Antiquarian Society. Valentini gave a brief review 
of the various references to paper in the codices, followed by 
a discussion of the means used to produce pre-Columbian paper. 
According to the early documents, paper was made primarily 
from two sources: the inner bark of the amatl tree and the 
leaves of the maguey plant. As previously mentioned, the Na- 
huatl word amatl generally refers to any number of trees be- 
longing to the family Moraceae (usually members of the genus 
Ficus), although Valentini apparently misidentified the amatl 
(Valentini 1880, p. 66). Maguey refers to any of the desert 
plants known as agave (genus Agave) of the family Amarylli- 
daceae. Valentini noted throughout the article that the early 
observers are inconsistent and sometimes contradictory in their 
accounts of the materials from which paper is made. 4 

Was the paper made from maguey leaves or tree bark? One 
obvious conclusion is that both types of paper were in fact 
produced. While lamenting "how little information can be 
drawn from the writings of the chroniclers" (Valentini 1880, 
p. 70), Valentini indirectly suggests that perhaps the lowland 
Mayas used amatl paper while the highland Aztecs used ma- 


guey paper: "The Mayas occupied a zone of vegetation in 
which the amatl tree has its home, whilst the Nahoas [Aztecs] 
had settled on the mesas of the Cordillera, where the tree does 
not exist" (Valentini 1880, p. 68). While the contenders as the 
main sources of raw material used in paper manufacture are 
amatl and maguey, other minor sources of raw material have 
also been suggested, including the leaves of a species of palm; 
cotton; a substance produced by caterpillars; nettles; the juice 
of the banana tree; a combination of palm, yucca, and ana- 
cahuite fibers; and the inner bark of the rubber tree (Lenz 
1973 [1948], pp. 37, 74ff., 110-11, 170, 175ff.; Lenz 1946, p. 
695; Christensen 1942, pp. 111-12; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 
1969, p. 10; Marti 1971, p. 59). 

Following Valentini's work, anthropologist Frederick Starr 
conducted a series of expeditions throughout southern and cen- 
tral Mexico. The expeditions took place between 1897 and 1901 
and had three major objectives: first, to collect anthropometric 
data on selected individuals of the various Indian groups en- 
countered; second, to take photographs of these groups; and 
third, to make plaster busts of representative members of the 
various tribes. Starr was in search of Indian Mexico and thus 
was also interested in evidence of "pagan" practices. In March 
1899, while in the state of Mexico, Starr met a Senor Xochihua, 
an Aztec Indian connected with the political authorities in the 
region. He informed Starr that bark paper was still being pro- 
duced in the Otomi village of San Gregorio, in the state of 
Hidalgo, and that it might be interesting to go there. During 
the expedition of 1900, Starr made a point of visiting the area 
to gain firsthand information on this ancient craft. 

The area to which Starr was directed lies just outside the 
Huasteca region, in the Sierra Madre Oriental (Sierra Norte 
de Puebla). Starr entered the area ostensibly to search for To- 
tonac and Tepehua Indians to measure but also to collect in- 
formation on local cultures and papermaking activities. While 
he was in the town of Pahuatlan, in Puebla, he asked a politi- 
cal leader about papermaking and ritual practices. He was told 
that paper was being made in San Pablito, a nearby village, 



and that it was used in witchcraft rituals: ". . . it is cut into 
munecos ["dolls"], representing human beings and horses and 
other animals, and these are used to work injury to human 
beings and beasts, being buried in front of the house or in the 
corrar (Starr 1978 [1908], p. 246). Starr also met a judge who 
said that several years previously an Otomi prisoner had been 
brought before him for trial and that the prisoner had had on 
his person a cut-paper figure. The figure was sewn through the 
body with thread and also had the lips sewn shut. Upon being 
questioned, the Indian had said that the doll was an image of 
the judge and that the lips were sewn to prevent him from 
passing sentence. 

In a nearby village Starr continued his inquiries about bark 
paper and associated religious practices. He was told by local 
officials that the traditional practices for which he was search- 
ing were observed only by the Otomis. The traditional rituals 
were called costumbres ("customs"), and they appeared to be 
dedicated to a spirit called Montezuma. They believed that 
Montezuma would come again, and that in the meantime he 
provided health, crops, and all other good things. The villagers 
constructed a long altar in a special shrine hidden from the 
view of outsiders. On this altar a feast was laid for Montezuma 
to win his favor for the village. The table was covered with a 
layer of figures cut from paper, often one or two inches deep. 
People sometimes slipped silver coins under the paper figures 
as a way of achieving religious merit. In former times only 
bark paper was used, but Starr learned that industrially manu- 
factured paper was increasingly used. It was also reported that 
the Otomis killed turkeys and chickens in the course of their 
rituals and sprinkled the blood on the paper images (Starr 
1978 [1908], p. 250). Starr knew that these practices survived 
from ancient times and that the continued use of paper in re- 
ligious rituals after hundreds of years of persecution was nothing 
short of amazing. 

The first Indians that Starr met in the region were Totonacs. 
He was disappointed to learn that, although the Totonacs made 
use of bark fibers in their rituals, they used it only to tie up 


small bundles of sacred sticks (Starr 1978 [1908], p. 253). He 
found no evidence that they cut images out of paper. As he 
traveled farther into the mountains, Starr learned that the Otomis 
of San Pablito also made use of small wooden figurines in their 
rituals. These figurines were dressed in tiny clothes and shoes 
and placed on the altar. They were hidden when the Catholic 
priest arrived (Starr 1978 [1908], p. 258). Starr was told that 
each year two to three hundred Indians made a pilgrimage to 
a distant sacred lake, carrying the statuettes with them. The 
lake, which was also visited by several other Indian groups, 
was the home of a water deity called La Sirena (the Siren). 
The Indians threw seeds and money into the water, there was 
dancing and feasting, and several turkeys and chickens were 
sacrificed to induce the Siren to send rain. 

In the Tepehua town Huehuetla, Starr heard about a man 
who kept pre-Columbian statues on an altar. Local political 
leaders ordered the man to bring the figurines to a house so 
that Starr could see them, but the man refused, saying that 
the images were not toys to be shown to strangers. Starr was 
eventually admitted to the shrine beside the man's house, where 
on an altar he saw two sealed cabinets containing the statuettes. 
Starr was permitted to view the stone and ceramic figures, 
some of which were dressed in miniature clothes (Starr 1978 
[1908], p. 270). The cabinets were the focus of rituals at sow- 
ing time, at the harvest, and when there was an overabundance 
or lack of rain. 

Among Otomis near the village of Pantepec, Starr made in- 
quiries about traditional rituals and the use of paper. He was 
told that specialists cut the paper into images and used them for 
curing purposes, mainly by holding them against the patient's 
body (Starr 1978 [1908], p. 268). In San Pablito, Starr finally 
was able to witness bark paper being made and to examine the 
implements used in its manufacture (Starr 1978 [1908], p. 259). 
He noticed that two types of paper were made, a dark, purplish 
variety made from the xalama tree and a white variety made 
from the bark of the moral. Starr was not able to identify these 
species with certainty, although he knew that neither was re- 


lated to maguey. Later researchers have determined that xalama 
is a Ficus and moral is a species of mulberry. Both of these 
species belong to the Moraceae family. After purchasing seven- 
teen dozen sheets of the paper, Starr explored the village to 
try to find evidence of ritual activity. He saw no paper images 
in the village church, which he found "mean and bare" (Starr 
1978 [1908], p. 259), but inside one of the small shrines set 
back from the main trail he finally encountered the "curious" 
cut-paper figures. 

By 1900, then, an expert had seen bark paper being manu- 
factured by Otomi Indians and had learned what the paper was 
used for. He was able to affirm that paper was being made in 
at least four villages — San Gregorio (district Tenango, state of 
Hidalgo), Xalapa (district Zacualtipan, state of Hidalgo), San 
Pablito [municipio Pahuatlan, state of Puebla) and Ixtololoya 
[municipio Pantepec, state of Puebla) — and that it was used in 
several other villages. Starr's findings are of great ethnographic 
interest, but they cannot be used to clear up the questions 
surrounding the paper used in the codices. The modern Otomi 
craftsmen he witnessed primarily used plants from the Moraceae 
family as a source of fiber. His research does not, however, 
prove that Moraceae plants were the sole source used in pre- 
Hispanic times because, for one thing, maguey does not thrive 
in the region where papermaking has survived. 

Almost as a by-product of his search for Indian papermaking, 
Starr obtained information on the remarkable ways in which 
paper was used by the Otomis. He spent several days question- 
ing local Indians about traditional religious practices, although 
he was not able to witness a ritual himself. He was the first 
modern researcher to document that paper was cut by Otomi 
shamans into anthropomorphic and theriomorphic (animal- 
shaped) images representing certain spirits. These paper images 
along with small statuettes were the objects of rituals in which 
the Otomis sought to regulate rainfall, assure harvests, and cure 
disease. These religious practices seemed reminiscent of the 
ceremonies recorded by Sahagun and others in the sixteenth 
century, although they were understandably far more modest. 


Paper images may have been cut since pre-Columbian times, 
although no sixteenth-century chronicler specifically records 
the practice. We know that the Aztecs painted images of spirits 
on paper and that they cut paper into garments and banners 
for rituals, but no record exists that they cut it into visual 
images of specific spirits. Possibly the practice was confined to 
rural areas that did not receive the attention of early chroniclers, 
or perhaps they simply failed to document the custom. As pre- 
viously mentioned, court documents from the early eighteenth 
century record trials of accused idolators who were caught with 
paper images of "devils, " suggesting that the practice of cutting 
spirit images out of paper is quite old. Another possibility is 
that cutting images of spirits is a post-Conquest innovation 
developed in response to the need for easy concealment of 
ritual activity after the Spaniards destroyed the sacred statues. 
Unfortunately, Starr treated the paper images he saw simply 
as curiosities of a forgotten pagan past. The craft of paper- 
making captured his attention, and he left it to later researchers 
to investigate the remarkable paper images cut by the Indians. 
He returned to the United States to find that an interest had 
developed in pre-Columbian paper. 

In 1899, Walter Hough published in the American Anthro- 
pologist a comment on the use of maguey fibers for the manu- 
facture of paper. He stated, "There seems to be a general im- 
pression that the ancient Mexican codices were written on 
paper made from the bark of the maguey (agave species), as this 
statement appears in the works of all the writers who have 
mentioned the subject ,, (Hough 1899, p. 789). Hough con- 
tinues, "It will be seen by those familiar with the century 
plant that it has no bark." He concluded that the skin of 
the maguey leaf "is a material not suited to the codices, and 
it has not been used for any of those records that the writer 
has examined" (Hough 1899, p. 790). This note elicited an 
immediate response from Starr, who stated that no writer had 
ever claimed that pre-Columbian paper was made from the 
bark of the maguey. He said, "There can be no question that 
two kinds of paper were made and used by the ancient Mexi- 


cans — the maguey paper on the Plateau, the bark paper in the 
low country: the former would have been more common among 
the Aztecs, the latter among the Mayas" (Starr 1900, p. 302). 
Starr went on to describe how paper was being made among 
contemporary Otomis. 

A few years after this exchange, Dard Hunter, the famed 
expert on paper, visited an Otomi village in the state of Hidalgo 
to witness traditional papermaking. Hunter had apparently 
discovered that paper was made in the region from reading the 
works of Frederick Starr. At the time Hunter visited Mexico 
and wrote about his findings, very little work had been done 
on the manufacture and use of paper in prehistoric and con- 
temporary Mexico. Hunter himself, however, was unable to 
resolve the controversy of the fibers since he only witnessed 
paper being made from the amatl tree. He was struck by the 
incredible circumstances that allowed for the continuance of 
the ancient craft after so many centuries. He wrote of his 
"unique privilege to live among the Otomi Indians" and u the 
rare opportunity of watching these primitive workers fabricate 
their coarse, broadformed paper which, after being dried in the 
sun, was cut into grotesque images for use in religious rites" 
(Hunter in Von Hagen 1977 [1944], p. 4). Hunter first pub- 
lished his observations in Primitive Papermaking (1927), but 
was unable to spend enough time in Mexico to complete the 
research. He was gratified, therefore, shortly after the publi- 
cation of this hand-printed limited edition, to receive a letter 
from the historian Victor W. Von Hagen expressing an interest 
in the subject. With Hunter's support Von Hagen began work 
on a major research project which resulted in his book The 
Aztec and Maya Papermakers ( 1944). 

Soon after Hunter went to Mexico in search of traditional 
papermaking, research was conducted in Germany which af- 
firmed both Valentini's and Starr's early conclusions. In 1912, 
Rudolph Schwede published the results of a microscopic and 
chemical analysis he conducted on the paper of four known 
Maya codices, the Dresdensis, the Peres ianus, the Troantis, and 
the Cortesianus, and on some other fragments. He found that, 


contrary to prevailing opinion in Germany, the codices were 
made from the inner bark of various species of Ficus and not 
from the maguey leaf (Schwede 1912, p. 47). The prestigious 
expert on Middle America Eduard Seler asked Schwede to ex- 
amine twenty-one additional fragments to verify the original 
findings. In 1916, Schwede published his conclusions that all 
but one of the fragments were made from amatl fiber. The one 
exception was made of maguey fiber (Schwede 1916, p. 54). 

The evidence produced by Schwede seems conclusive: maguey 
was used to make paper among the ancient Mexicans, but most 
of the surviving pages were made from the inner bark of the 
amatl tree. It was to take over thirty years for this conclusion 
to be widely accepted, however. After World War I research 
interest focused on Starr's discovery that paper was still being 
made in remote areas in and around the Huasteca. Nicolas 
Leon, a senior professor in the National Museum of Archaeology, 
History, and Ethnography in Mexico, visited the Otomis of San 
Pablito to gather more information on papermaking. He was 
one of the first researchers to publish a picture of a paper 
image cut by a contemporary shaman, although he provided 
no information about the figure. He was also the first to reveal 
that bark paper was being made by Nahua (Aztec) Indians in 
the Chicontepec region of the southern Huasteca (Leon 1924, 
p. 103; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 86). 

But it was Von Hagen who set out to clarify the issues of 
papermaking and paper use in pre-Hispanic Middle America 
by writing the definitive work on the subject. In 1931 he 
visited the Otomi papermaking village of San Pablito to gather 
direct information on the survival of the ancient craft. In the 
course of his researches he consulted the ancient sources, made 
use of modern scientific techniques to test the fibers of tradi- 
tional paper, and traveled to Honduras, where Sumus Indians 
still manufactured bark cloth. His book The Aztec and Maya 
Papermakers was flawed, however, by his insistence that maguey 
was never used a source of raw material by the ancient paper- 
makers. In fact, a close reading of the sixteenth-century chron- 
iclers and of Schwede's report of 1916 should have laid that 


issue to rest. Von HagerTs book was attacked by scholars, and 
its main conclusion was shown to be in error (Miranda 1946; 
Reko 1947; Lenz 1973 [1948]). 

In the course of his work Von Hagen interested two resi- 
dents of Mexico in his research project. One, Hans Lenz, owned 
the largest paper mill in Mexico and was particularly interested 
in the history and manufacture of paper. The other was Bodil 
Christensen, an adventurous woman who was interested in 
Mexican ethnography. Lenz made a series of trips into the 
Huasteca and its environs from 1942 to 1945 in search of the 
traditional papermaking. He initially followed the routes of 
Frederick Starr and eventually went into the Chicontepec re- 
gion of northern Veracruz. He gathered information on how 
paper was made and on the religious rituals in which it was 
used. In addition he made collections of specimens of paper, 
some of which he donated to Von Hagen to be included as 
samples in a special limited edition of his book. Lenz was able 
to document papermaking among the Otomis and among mod- 
ern Aztecs of the Chicontepec region. In 1948 he published a 
book entitled El papel indigena mexicano: historia y supervivencia 
(Mexican hid/an Paper: Its History and Survival) which remains 
the definitive work on pre-Columbian papermaking and the 
fiber controversy. 

Bodil Christensen also made trips by horseback into the 
remote regions where paper continued to be produced. Like 
Lenz, she assisted Von Hagen with his paper project, although 
her initial motivation for entering the area was a general in- 
terest in the local cultures. Christensen photographed paper- 
making among Otomis and modern Aztecs and collected samples 
of the plants to be sent away for botanical identification. She 
also obtained a great deal of information on the traditional 
religious systems that use paper. Beginning in the 1940s, she 
published a series of articles on her research, and later she was 
coauthor of a small book on ancient and modern uses of paper 
in Mexico (Christensen 1971; Marti 1971). 

The mystery of the fibers will perhaps never be completely 
solved, but we now have a clearer picture of ancient Mexican 


paper. It appears that maguey was used by pre-Columbian 
papermakers but not to the extent that the Moraceae trees 
were used. Faustino Miranda, a botanist critic of Von Hagen, 
suggested that the Aztecs may have used Moraceae paper, ob- 
tained through trade and tribute, for books, tribute rolls, maps, 
and so on, while reserving the possibly cruder maguey paper 
for disposable adornments, banners, and vestments (Miranda 
1946, p. 202). Thus, since none of these objects has survived 
to the present day, maguey paper may be underrepresented 
in remaining fragments. Interestingly, all of the almost one 
hundred fragments examined so far have proved to be of 
Moraceae, maguey, or European manufacture. Either the other 
sources of fiber suggested by later writers were never used or, 
more likely, the paper made from them has been lost. 


One of the questions most commonly asked by persons who 
have seen bark paper is how the paper is made. We include 
several descriptions of the process here, beginning with a pos- 
sible technique for producing maguey paper. 

The major problems faced by researchers trying to establish 
that maguey was used in the production of Mexican paper is 
that we have no firsthand description of how the fibers were 
extracted and reworked. Boturini Benaduci, who visited Mexico 
in the eighteenth century, long after the Aztecs ceased large- 
scale production of paper, provided one of the few descrip- 
tions of how maguey paper might have been made: 

The leaves were putrified, after which the fibers were washed. 
Thus softened, the fibers were extended to make thick as well as 
thin paper. The paper was later polished so that it could be painted 
upon. [Boturini Benaduci 1933 [1746], pp. 95-96] s 

This description was taken up by other writers, including the 
great geographer Alexander von Humboldt, and uncritically 
included in subsequent works on Mexico. 

The only sixteenth-century chronicler to leave a written 
description of bark papermaking based on eyewitness observa- 


tion was the naturalist Francisco Hernandez. While some ques- 
tion exists about the precise species of tree he linked to paper 
manufacture (Miranda 1946, p. 197), Hernandez's description 
is clear: 

[The a maq uauitl tree] grows in the mountains of Tepoztlan where 
one can frequently see swarming multitudes of workers making 
paper from it. The product is not very fit for writing or drawing 
lines, although it does not make ink run. It is useful for wrapping 
and is more than adequate for use by these Western Indians in 
their celebrations of feast days of the gods. From this paper they 
make sacred vestments and funeral adornments. They cut only the 
thick branches, leaving the shoots, and soak them in rivers or 
streams overnight. On the following day they tear off the bark 
and, after removing the exterior cuticle, they spread out the inner 
bark with blows from a flat stone which has a surface furrowed 
with grooves. The stone is held by an unfinished willow twig 
doubled over in a circle like a handle. That flexible wood gives 
readily; later it is cut into pieces which, beaten again with an- 
other flatter stone, are easily joined together into a single sheet 
which is then polished. These sheets are finally divided into pieces 
two palms [8!4 inches each] long and approximately a palm and 
a half wide. The product is like our thicker and cheaper paper, 
although it is more compact and whiter. Theirs is inferior to our 
smoother paper. [Hernandez 1959 [1571-76?], l:83-84] 6 

While there are differences in the methods described by Her- 
nandez and Boturini Benaduci, they are surprisingly similar, 
considering the different plants employed. 

The description by Hernandez is probably accurate because 
more modern descriptions of papermaking by contemporary 
people are similar. Frederick Starr described papermaking as 

At San Pablito two kinds of bark are used: moral [mulberry] 
gives a whitish, xalama [F/cus] a purplish paper. The bark is best 
gathered when full of sap, but is kept after drying. A board is 
used for a foundation on which to beat. A stone approximately 
rectangular and generally with the corners grooved for convenient 
grasping is used for a beater. The bark is carefully washed in 
lyewater, taken from maize that has been prepared for tortillas; it 


is then washed in fresh water and finally boiled until it shreds 
readily into slender strips. These are arranged upon the board — 
first a boundary line for the future sheet of paper is laid out and 
then strips are laid near together lengthwise within this outline. 
They are then beaten with the stone until the spread fibres are 
felted together. The sheets are dried in the air, folded, and done 
up in packages of a dozen, which sell for three centavos. The work 
is done by women and usually in the houses with a certain degree 
of secrecy. [Starr 1901, pp. 181-82] 

Starr's description includes more detail, but his statements sug- 
gest that papermaking techniques have changed very little over 
the centuries. 

Following is a description by Dard Hunter of how paper is 
made among the Otomis: 

The bark of these trees used by the Otomis is gathered in the 
autumn when full of sap. After the bark is well dried it is placed 
in a pool of running water, which washes away the parenchyma 
or glutinous substance, leaving the pure fibres. These are then 
made into bundles and laid in a stream where the material re- 
ceives a further cleansing. It is then boiled with ashes, or in the 
liquid (nejayote or nixcomel) in which corn tortillas (Mexican cakes) 
have been boiled. A large earthen pot of native construction, heated 
over an open fire, is used in boiling the bark. After washing, the 
fibres are beaten with wooden clubs or mallets until they have 
separated and are in a pulpy condition. When the material has 
been thoroughly macerated it is made into a paste and spread over 
a board in a thin sheet with the fingers; and then gently beaten 
with a small stone, which mats the fibres, forming a homogeneous 
sheet of paper. This sheet, still upon the board, is then dried in 
the sun. When it is dry it can be easily removed, the board causing 
the underside of the paper to be smooth, with an almost glossy 
appearance. [Hunter 1927, pp. 15-16] 

In both Starr's and Hunter's descriptions we see that modern 
Indians boil the bark in lime water to soften the fibers and then 
form the sheet on a board. One small inaccuracy in Hunter's 
account is that the corn used to make tortillas is boiled before 
being ground but the tortillas themselves are not boiled. Hunter 
points out, "In all regions where paper is made in a primitive 


manner, there will be seen, even within short distances, slightly 
different methods of working" (Hunter 1927, p. 17). 

The following is an eyewitness account of modern Otomi 
papermaking by Bodil Christensen: 

The bark is peeled off the trees in the spring, preferably when 
the moon is new, as this facilitates the work and does less harm 
to the trees. The men collect the bark, and the women do the 
actual paper-making. After the peeling, the inner bark is separated 
from the outer bark and sold to the women. It may be dried and 
stored away as it is for later use; but before it is used, it must be 
boiled in ash-water, or lime water, in which corn for the tortillas 
has been soaked. It must boil for several hours, generally from 
three to six; then it is rinsed in clean water and is finally ready for 
use. While making the paper, the women keep the fibers in a 
wooden bowl filled with water to keep them soft. The paper is 
made on a wooden board, the size of which depends on the size 
of the paper wanted. The Otomis of San Pablito make small, thin 
sheets of paper measuring only about five by nine inches; those 
made by the [Aztec] Indians in Chicontepec are much heavier and 
twice the size. A woman spreads a layer of fibers on the board 
and beats it out with a stone until it is felted together. The stones 
are either grooved or smooth on the pounding surface with fluted 
sides. Amongst the Indians in Chicontepec, dried corn-cobs scorched 
in fire are used instead of the customary stone beaters. The boards 
with the wet fibers are placed in the sun to dry, and after a while 
the paper can be lifted off the board. [Christensen 1963, p. 363] 

There seem to be minor disagreements with Hunter's account, 
for example, whether the bark is best peeled in the autumn or 
spring, but the basic process described is the same. 

The techniques for making bark paper are quite different 
from those used to produce modern industrially manufactured 
paper. We can assume that the ancient Mexicans followed 
similar procedures in papermaking, and, in fact, the best of 
today's bark paper strongly resembles that used for the codices. 
The traditional process allows paper to be made in any thick- 
ness or size, depending on the amount of fiber used, the degree 
to which it is pounded, and the size of the board on which 
it is formed. Thus the gigantic sheet of paper used in the Aztec 


ritual described earlier by Sahagiin could have been made by 
use of techniques employed today. 

Most of the paper made today is sold in various forms to 
tourist markets. For this purpose a rough finish on the paper 
is acceptable. The ancient Aztecs, however, developed the tech- 
nique of ironing the paper with a hot stone to give it a better 
surface for painting (Von Hagen 1977 [1944], pp. 64-65). They 
also painted the codices on paper which had been coated with 
a white substance, probably bicarbonate of calcium. This coat- 
ing may have served to improve the surface of the paper or 
perhaps to provide a uniform white background. Finally, to 
make it more durable, Aztec craftsmen sometimes made lami- 
nated paper composed of thin sheets held together with a vege- 
table glue (Christensen 1963, p. 361). 


One of the most important legacies of the interest in paper- 
making is that it motivated researchers to visit the remote and 
hitherto unstudied southern Huasteca area where paper is still 
produced. According to Starr, Mexico has no better region in 
which to study the survival of ancient beliefs and practices 
(Starr 1901, p. 180). The three major culture groups that occupy 
the area— Nahua (Aztec), Otomi, and Tepehua — have remained 
fairly isolated and thus have been able to retain many of their 
ancient traditions. The discovery of these fascinating cultures 
was an unforeseen event derived from the search for the origins 
of native paper. The early researchers Hunter and Leon and 
later ones like Von Hagen, Lenz, and Christensen were in- 
terested in discovering how paper was traditionally made. The 
ancient sources were lacking in reliable descriptions of the craft, 
and the controversy over the source of fiber added to the con- 
fusion. The only solution was to follow up Starr's discovery 
that paper was still being produced in the old way and to 
witness the techniques firsthand. 

By the 1930s only a few families in the Otomi village of 
San Pablito appear to have been making paper, mainly to 
supply local shamans, who cut it into sacred images (Dow 


1982, p. 630). It appears that the final blow to this ancient 
craft was the ready availability of cheap mass-produced paper, 
which had the advantage of coming in many colors. Then 
Nahua Indians in the state of Guerrero began painting color- 
ful pictures on Otomi bark paper to sell to the growing num- 
bers of tourists visiting Mexico (Eshelman 1981; Stromberg 
1976). The paintings, called amates after the Aztec word for 
paper, were extremely popular, and the demand for bark paper 
soon became enormous. The depressed papermaking industry 
rapidly revitalized and transformed the economy of San Pablito. 
Anthropologist James Dow, who has conducted extensive field 
research in and around San Pablito, reports that every family 
in the village now produces bark paper; in 1974 between 50,000 
and 60,000 pesos' worth of paper were being produced each 
month in the village (Dow, personal communication). The 
increased economic importance of bark paper, so closely asso- 
ciated with ritual life, seems to have had a revitalizing effect 
on Otomi religion as well. Dow reports that many Otomis 
now militantly support the native religion. Another researcher 
reports that Saint Martin the Lesser has been added to the list 
of saints in the church. This saint is known to the villagers as 
San Jonote, or Saint Bark Paper Fiber (Kaupp 1975, p. 169). 

With the discovery that paper was still used in Otomi rituals, 
an interest soon developed in the traditional religion of the 
Otomis. Christensen and Lenz were the first to collect infor- 
mation on the local rituals, although they presented only vague 
sketches. Earlier researchers had held the local customs in dis- 
dain and thought them unworthy of study. After describing the 
use of paper in certain magic rites, Von Hagen said: "Such 
is the lamentable decadence of Mexican paper" (Von Hagen 
1977 [1944], p. 58). Hunter dismissed traditional Otomi religion 
when he declared, "Paper among the Otomis does not concern 
the intellectual" (Hunter 1957, p. 47). The sale of Otomi sacred 
paper figures in handicraft markets produced an even greater 
interest in the religions that produced them. Modern researchers 
(see the works of Dow; Boiles; Galinier; Lannik, Palm and 
Tatkon; Kaupp; Fitl; and Spranz) have increased our knowl- 


edge a great deal, but the philosophical and mythological basis 
of Otomi religion is still only poorly understood. At least three 
Otomi shamans have produced written works on their religious 
system. In the 1960s, Santos Garcia produced small books, 
handwritten on bark paper and bound by hand, in which cer- 
tain rituals and associated cut-paper images are explained. Al- 
fonso Garcia T. and, later, Antonio Lopez M. produced similar 
small books, also hand-lettered on bark paper, which attempt 
to explain something of traditional religious belief (see Sand- 
strom 1981). What has emerged is a clearer but still incomplete 
picture of Otomi religion. Far from the simple-mindedness 
attributed to it by some early researchers, Otomi religion has 
been found to be highly complex, sophisticated, and compre- 
hensible on a variety of levels. Chapter 5 contains information 
on Otomi religion and illustrations of paper cuttings collected 
from Otomi shamans. 

Meanwhile, work has also begun on the other cultures that 
make use of paper figures in their rituals, the Nahuas and 
Tepehuas. While neither of these groups still produces bark 
paper, they do use manufactured paper extensively in ritual 
performances. The Nahuas are probably remnants of the Aztec 
empire, which invaded the region sometime before the Spanish 
conquest (Barlow 1979 [1949], p. 55). They have been inves- 
tigated by a number of researchers, and, like the Otomis, they 
possess a highly traditional religious system (see the works of 
Reyes Garcia; Williams Garcia; Montoya Briones; Provost; 
and Sandstrom). Research findings on Nahua religion along 
with illustrations of paper images collected from Nahua sha- 
mans are included in chapter 4. 

In 1937-38, while Von Hagen was researching pre-Colum- 
bian papermaking, a French investigator named Robert Ges- 
sain entered the region of traditional papermaking. A member 
of a scientific exchange program between Mexico and France, 
he conducted anthropological research among the Tepehua 
Indians of Huehuetla, in the state of Hidalgo. Gessain found 
that the Tepehuas made extensive use of industrially manu- 
factured paper in their religious observances. Ill health forced 


Gessain to leave Mexico before his work was completed (G. B. 
1938, pp. 38 Iff.), but he published the first systematic infor- 
mation on the sacred paper images used in the region, along 
with photographs of the several he was able to collect (Gessain 
1938, pp. 343-71). Later a Mexican ethnographer, Roberto 
Williams Garcia, was able to extend Gessain's work with a 
long-term field project in a Tepehua village in northern Vera- 
cruz (see Williams Garcia 1963, 1972). Information on Tepehua 
religion along with illustrations of paper images collected by 
these researchers is included in chapter 6. 

The Indians of today practice a religion that has meaning 
within their agricultural way of life and derives from the con- 
text established by their own history. Modern researchers have 
just begun to uncover the complex metaphysical and philo- 
sophical bases of the sacred paper images and the religious 
thought that underlies them. Much work remains to be done. 
Although many beliefs and practices among the Nahuas, Otomis, 
and Tepehuas have been blended or syncretized with Christian 
religious ideas, their systems remain essentially foreign to people 
of Western European culture. The use of paper to portray and 
represent their most powerful and sacred concepts, while par- 
ticularly strange to those of us living in urban bureaucracies 
inundated in paperwork, has a long and well-established his- 
tory among the Indians of Middle America. In a very real 
sense paper images are the central focus of rituals. They are 
symbolic of the spirits and concepts most closely connected to 
key areas of daily existence, and they are a physical image of 
what is vital to the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas who are still 
living traditional lives. The importance of paper as a medium 
of communication between human and spirit worlds is as great 
today as it was five hundred years ago. 



In the Nahua Indian village of Amatlan (not its real name), 
where we conducted most of our field research, there is a small 
shrine to the seed spirits, located off of the main trail and hidden 
from the view of passersby. After having spent several months 
in the village questioning people about religious beliefs and 
gaining little information, we were invited there to attend a 
ritual held to bring rain to the parched fields. Of the dozens 
of rituals we witnessed in the village, this was one of the most 
elaborate and colorful. It was also the first one in which we 
saw extensive use of paper images. In the following pages we 
describe this fertility ceremony in order to place the paper 
images in their context and to impart something of the flavor 
of costumbre rituals. 

Including preparations, the ritual lasted about two weeks. 
What follows is a summary of its major events. The ritual was 
somewhat unusual in style and content for the Nahuas because 
it was conducted by an Otomi shaman. This shaman has a 
reputation for being an extremely effective ritual specialist. 
Nahua informants noted that he lives alone in the jungle, and 
all agreed that he conducts a powerful ritual that always brings 
results. Throughout the event a Nahua shaman assisted him, 
for example, by chanting in Nahuatl, while the Otomi chanted 
in his own language. In this way the ritual was rendered com- 
prehensible to village participants. The use of an outsider for 
such an important occasion illustrates the degree to which re- 
ligious beliefs and practices are shared among Indians of the 
region. Some of the mythological and cosmological principles 
underlying the ritual (of which we were ignorant at the time) 
are discussed in chapters 4, 5, and 7. 




By the middle of March the village Amatlan had been with- 
out rain for almost two months. The villagers were growing 
worried about the drought, especially since the winter crops 
were showing signs of deterioration. Winter is the dry season 
in the Huasteca region, and crops planted at this time always 
yield less than those grown during the summer rainy season. 
Two months without rain, however, is unusual even for this 
time of year. The problem greatly concerned the people of 
Amatlan because they are small-scale horticulturists who have 
no means of saving produce from previous seasons. Thus the 
loss of the dry-season crop would mean the month of hunger 
before the rainy-season crop was ready for harvest. 

The usual practice in the village is to hold a ritual in late 
February or early March to insure the fertility of the fields. 
Called Xochitlalia (Flowery Earth), the ritual is designed as an 
offering to various spirits that are believed to influence the 
conditions of plant growth. Among these spirits are the seeds, 
whose paper images are stored in a sacred wooden cabinet 
kept in the special shrine. These paper figures are dressed in 
tiny suits of clothes and are placed in the cabinet along with 
miniature furniture. Other spirit entities addressed in this ritual 
include the Earth, Water, Fire, the Cross, and Lightning and 
Thunder, which, along with the seed spirits, live on twelve 
sacred hills in the vicinity of the village. Each hill has a name 
and may be visited during other ritual occasions throughout 
the year (see chapter 4). 

Because of the drought, village leaders decided to hold a 
particularly elaborate Xochitlalia ritual that year. They planned 
the ceremony to last for twelve days, one day for each of the 
sacred hills. One of the wealthier Nahua families agreed to pay 
the substantial fee of 150 pesos (U.S. $12 at what was then the 
current exchange rate) to hire the Otomi shaman to cut the 
paper figures and organize the proceedings. Despite the fact 
that the observance would be Otomi in character, the villagers 
agreed that this ritual, observed with greater elaboration than 
usual, would be particularly effective at producing rain. The 


following is from our field notes taken as the events occurred. 


A full day before the Otomi master arrives, excitement grows 
in the village as preparations are begun. Men and boys gather 
piles of marigold blossoms and palm leaves to be made into 
altar adornments. The Nahua shaman directs several volunteers 
to purchase candles and sacrificial turkeys and chickens at a 
distant market. Other men wash altar tables, and women begin 
to prepare meals for the shamans and their helpers. While prep- 
arations are being made, the Nahua shaman places lighted bees- 
wax candles near the workers, and a guitarist and violinist 
begin to play the slow and highly repetitive sacred music which 
will be heard for the duration of the ritual. About half a dozen 
men squat in a circle and make several types of adornments. 
The most common, called coyo/es, are wandlike strips of palm 
leaf to which are tied one or two marigold blossoms. They are 
used to decorate altars, and altogether 2,100 of them are pro- 
duced for the upcoming ritual. Pinwheellike adornments are 
also constructed from palm leaves and marigold flowers. These 
symbolize guardian stars (sing, citlali) and are tied on leaf- 
covered arches over altar tables. A third type of adornment is 
made from varying lengths of flexible vine to which marigold 
blossoms are tied. This item is called xochicostli (or rosario, 
"rosary"), and it is used to decorate altars and to cleanse people 
ritually of disease-causing spirits. Finally there are various 
adornments made from bamboo, including bastones ("walking 
sticks" or "staffs"), which are decorated with flowers and rib- 
bons, and xochimapilli ("little flower-hand"), small fork-like 
implements on which marigold blossoms are impaled. 

As these adornments are being completed, the Otomi master 
arrives with a large bundle of paper. A man adds resinous copal 
incense to a nearby brazier while the Otomi instructs a group 
of men how to fold and cut the paper into uniform sheets. 
As the Otomi shaman works, scores of villagers enter the thatch- 
roofed shrine and respectfully greet the master. He takes out 
a pair of scissors and rapidly begins to cut paper figures from 


the prepared sheets. The process continues for the next several 
hours as hundreds of paper figures are fashioned. Finished cut- 
outs are smoothed and separated by helpers and placed twelve 
at a time on decorated sheets of paper called "tortilla nap- 
kins" or "beds" (see chapter 4 for an explanation of these terms). 
These, in turn, are carefully stacked by the helpers, one on top 
of the other. The finished stacks are divided into piles of about 
twenty and tied with strips of bark. 

The figures laid on the paper beds are symbolic representa- 
tions of the various spirits to be addressed in the ritual. Many 
figures are cut repeatedly, and the spirits are often represented 
in both male and female forms. After this initial series of figures 
is cut from the white paper, the Otomi cuts several dozen 
figures from colored paper. Finally he cuts several large squar- 
ish figures with hideous claws, gaping mouths, and skeletonlike 
ribs. The face, claw, and rib cuts are circled with heavy black 
charcoal to emphasize their malevolent nature. These last two 
groups of images represent the disease-causing winds that 
threaten both people and crops. 

While the figures are being cut, helpers open the sacred 
cabinet containing the seed spirits. One man places a smoking 
copal incense brazier before the cabinet as others empty it of 
its contents. The seed figures, dressed in sets of tiny clothes, 
have been stored in bunches of five or ten, neatly stacked up- 
right in the cabinet. These, along with the miniature furnish- 
ings, are removed and placed in a shallow basket (see color 
plate 1 ). Most of the figures represent the corn plant, although 
other crops are also included (see figures 41-51 for a sample 
of the cuttings kept in the cabinet). Women and girls begin to 
take the clothes off the figures as male helpers thoroughly cense 
and clean the cabinet. The clothes are washed, dried, and placed 
back on the paper images during the ritual. As the women 
and girls wash the clothes, helpers go outside and set up a 
small table dedicated to the Spirit of the Cross. Other volunteers 
place lighted candles for the Fire Spirit on the mud and stone 
fire table nearby. Finally another group of helpers sets up a 
small altar dedicated to the Water Spirit at a nearby spring. 



The Otomi shaman then instructs the growing number of 
helpers to decorate the main altar. They erect an arch covered 
with green limonaria leaves over the table and then tie the star 
adornments and bunches of flowers to the arch. An old mid- 
wife, called the copalmitoti quetl in Nahuatl or copalera in 
Spanish ("incense dancer"), begins to dance gracefully before 
the partially completed altar while holding a smoking brazier. 
A man places the cleaned but still empty cabinet at the center 
of the altar and leans the walking-stick adornments against it. 
A number of young girls enter and begin to sway back and 
forth to the sacred music while shaking rattles. Helpers line the 
altar with lighted candles and place a pot of water with a lighted 
candle sticking out of it by the cabinet. Many people now enter 
the shrine, and each person bows before the altar and leans 
an unlighted candle against the cabinet. All scraps of paper 
from the cuttings are carefully gathered up by nearby partici- 
pants, while the small altar outside, dedicated to the Spirit of 
the Cross, is adorned with candles and the palm and mari- 
gold items prepared earlier. 


Work on the main altar is halted by the Otomi shaman as he 
instructs everyone to move outside for a general cleansing. Be- 
fore any major ritual is held, harmful spirits must be removed 
from the participants' bodies and from the surrounding area. 
A danger always exists that harmful spirits will be attracted to 
the music and offerings and thus will gain strength. The shaman 
lays out beds of white and colored paper figures in a pattern 
on the ground (see accompanying diagram). Surrounding these, 
he arranges the large, square charcoal-blackened images and 
a number of leaf packets to which have been tied single white 
paper images. Helpers lay out sprigs of sacred herbs near the 
bottom of the array and then place bundles of palm-leaf adorn- 
ments over the paper cutouts. Next they place a long vine and 
marigold rosary so that it completely surrounds the display. 
Two men arrange cups of coffee on the paper images while 
others place bottles of aguardiente (a white rum), Coca-Cola, 


bowl of water 

long rosario 

marigold blossoms 

(0_— bottles of Coca-Cola, 
^(~) beer, and aguardiente 


ncense brazier' 



and beer at the bottom of the array near a smoking brazier. 
The musicians now play before the display as the shaman sticks 
lighted candles in the earth. Helpers pile leaf packets contain- 
ing earth from each house in the village on the paper beds. 
A man sets a large bowl of water at the head of the display 
as another places an egg, a pack of cigarettes, and pieces of 
bread on the display itself. A woman adds bread to each cup 
of coffee as the two shamans kneel before the array. 

The Nahua and Otomf shamans chant simultaneously in their 
own languages. They dedicate the display and offerings to the 
malos aires ("bad airs") — wind spirits associated with disease 
and death. The shamans list the offerings in their chants and 
implore negative spirits to keep away from the village. As the 
group of young girls sway and shake rattles to the music, the 
shamans grab handfuls of the palm-leaf adornments from the 
display. After parading the walking-stick adornments in front 
of the paper figures in the display, the shamans rub all the 
people with palm adornments. The incense dancer begins to 
cense everyone as the Otomf waves a branch cut from a sacred 
tree over each person's head. Next the shamans position two 
male helpers before the display, each holding a lighted candle 
in one hand and a ritual walking stick in the other. The 
walking-stick adornments have two major meanings: they are 
symbolic of travel or communication, in this case between 
people and the spirits, and they are the implements carried by 
Thunder and Lightning, dwarflike spirits who travel in the 
clouds and cause rain. Parading or holding the sticks communi- 
cates the offerings to the appropriate spirits and suggests that 
rain is needed by the village. 

A woman emerges from the shrine carrying the basket with 
the naked seed figures in it. Helpers now place small bits of 
lighted white candle, symbolizing the underworld, around the 
display. The malos aires, whose images make up the display, 
come from the underworld; they represent the wandering 
spirits of people who died tragic, usually violent, deaths. A male 
participant brings out the stacks of cut-paper images from inside 
the shrine as the shamans place lighted cigarettes in the mouths 


of the blackened square figures surrounding the main display. 
The Otomi master now holds a small chicken in the smoke 
rising from the incense brazier. He waves the chicken over the 
display and exhibits it before the crowd of people. The same 
procedure is followed by the Nahua shaman. The two shamans 
then take both chickens inside to the main altar to be blessed. 
Returning outside, they suddenly wrench off the chickens' 
heads and sprinkle their blood over the display. At the same 
moment helpers pour the beverage offerings over all the ritual 
items. The shamans reserve the egg and some of each offering to 
be poured into the bowl of water at the head of the display. 

The large marigold blossom rosary surrounding the display 
is removed and held by two helpers. A small group of onlookers 
moves into the loop of the rosary, and it is lowered to the 
ground. The people step out, and the rosary is raised over their 
heads and lowered down over them again. In all, the process 
is repeated seven times. Next the helpers lay the rosary on the 
ground and the people step into it, after which it is raised up 
over their heads. This procedure is also repeated seven times. 
The first group to be so cleansed includes those people desig- 
nated to hold the cut-paper figures. As the Otomi master con- 
tinues to sprinkle white rum on the display, all of the people 
in attendance have the loop passed over them. Finally, at the 
instruction of the shamans, the entire display is divided in half 
and formed into two tightly tied bundles. Each bundle contains 
half of the offerings and paper images, along with a marigold 
blossom rosary and one sacrificed chicken. After the shamans 
step back into the shrine, they parade the bundles before the 
altar, fireplace, cooking area, and the group of people in at- 
tendance. The bundles are then given to boys to be discarded. 
One bundle is placed on a bank high above a trail, while the 
other is thrown into a deep ravine. Because the bundles con- 
tain all of the harmful wind spirits removed during the ritual, 
they are disposed of carefully so they cannot be encountered 

Each step in the cleansing procedure is designed to remove 
dangerous spirits. The elaborate display contains paper images 



of the wind spirits that receive offerings and are exhorted to 
depart by the shamans. Spirits are believed to have appetites 
similar to humans, and offerings thus include luxury items such 
as cigarettes, white rum, beer, Coca-Cola, coffee, eggs, and 
bread. Unlike humans, however, they feed on blood, which is 
supplied by the sacrificial birds. The Nahuas want the display 
to be a beautiful place where the spirits can enjoy the offerings, 
so they surround it by lighted candles, marigold blossoms, and 
sacred herbs and arrange for musicians to play special music. 
The ritual cleansing of the packets of earth from each house 
placed in the center of the display symbolically cleanses each 
individual dwelling in the village. The bowl of water is included 
in the array because certain harmful spirits come from the 
water. Ritual participants and the remaining paper images are 
cleansed of dangerous spirits in a number of ways. The shamans 
rub each person with the sacralized palm adornments as the 
copalera dances and censes everyone. Finally each paper figure 
and ritual participant goes through the large marigold loop a 
fixed number of times to eliminate any lingering wind spirits. 


In front of the main altar the copalera dances to the continuing 
sacred guitar and violin music while holding a smoking brazier. 
The entire shrine is filled with aromatic copal smoke. As 
nearly 75 people gather inside the shrine, helpers place all the 
paper images cut by the Otomi shaman in two piles beside the 
empty cabinet on the altar. These helpers then pass out bundles 
of palm adornments to each person in attendance as other men 
set out a candle, a soft drink, and a food offering under the main 
altar. This offering to the earth is completed as a helper places 
a plate holding a pair of scissors nearby. While lighted candles 
are distributed to everyone, the shamans position the two men 
holding the walking-stick adornments in front of the altar. Men 
now bring in several live turkeys and chickens. Every so often 
one of the shamans walks up and down the altar ringing a small 
bell to awaken attending spirits. The Otomi shaman gives the 
pot of water containing the burning candle to a girl to hold 


and then joins the Nahua shaman, who is kneeling before the 
altar. A helper hands each shaman half of the stack of newly 
cut paper figures. Four musicians play the sacred melodies as 
all the other people, each holding a candle and bundle of palm 
adormnents, face the altar and kneel. 

The stacks of paper beds and figures are sacralized in incense 
smoke by a helper as the shamans chant in mounting cadence, 
each in his own language. They name the various spirits and 
list the offerings about to be made. Everyone in the area bows 
as the shamans shake rattles and ring the small bell. Next, 
all stand as the shamans dance energetically before the altar. 
The stacks of paper figures are taken from the two shamans by 
their assistants and folded in half. The bamboo-fork adornments 
and some candles are placed in the fold as all the people make 
a quarter turn to their left and again kneel. Helpers begin to 
lay out the paper beds containing the spirit figures on the altar 
and beside the earth offering as people rise, make another 
quarter turn to their left, and again kneel. Paper figures con- 
tinue to be laid carefully on the altar as the people, still holding 
their palm adornments and candles, turn left again and kneel. 
Soft drinks are placed on the altar as everyone turns another 
quarter turn to face the main altar once again. The two shamans 
kneel before the altar, one ringing the bell, as they make final 
preparations for the sacrifice. 

A chicken and a turkey are held by male assistants as the 
shamans continue to kneel and chant. The helpers force-feed 
each bird some aguardiente as the shamans rise to dance. The 
Otomi master puts aside the incense brazier with which he is 
dancing and cuts the birds' throats with the pair of scissors. 
He spreads their blood over the paper images laid out on the 
altar and on the earth display beneath the altar. Two more 
birds are brought in and killed in the same fashion. The Otomi 
collects some of the blood in the plate and, using a feather 
dipped in the blood, paints each paper figure. The people in 
attendance now carefully place their palm adornments on the 
altar over the blood-spattered paper images. Smaller altars to 


the spirits of Fire, the Cross, and Water also receive palm 
adornments. Helpers place the bamboo-fork adornments on 
the altar along with marigold blossom rosaries. Finally, as the 
incense dancer lays the naked seed figures on top of the adorn- 
ments, a man returns the water pot with the burning candle 
to the altar. Girls in a tight group sway and shake rattles to 
the ongoing music while other girls smooth and prepare the 
miniature seed figures' clothing. 

It is 9:45 a.m., and the ritual has continued all night. The 
shamans and a large number of villagers walk to a spring that 
provides water for nearby households. Here a small table has 
been set up and decorated like the main altar. Close to the 
spring the shamans place lighted candles and food offerings. 
Two musicians play as the copalera performs her dance while 
swirling the smoking incense brazier. Some women arrive with 
plates containing the cooked meat of the birds sacrificed the 
night before. They place some of this meat on the small altar 
table along with soft drinks, beer, coffee, bread and other food. 
At the same time, the young girls draw close together and begin 
swaying and shaking rattles to the music. Helpers place ceramic 
water jars around the spring while a woman stands before the 
altar holding a full water pitcher with three protruding walking- 
stick adornments. This juxtaposition is designed to communi- 
cate to the appropriate spirits the immediate need for rain. 
A woman helper places a packet of naked seed figures by the 
spring as each person in attendance approaches the altar and 
adds a coin offering to others in a dish. 

After these preparations are completed, the two shamans ap- 
proach the altar and begin to chant simultaneously. As they 
kneel, a helper gives a dish of water taken from the spring 
to a girl standing nearby. After a short while, the girl flings 
the water upon the crowd of people. Then each person, one by 
one, moves forward to throw water over the crowd. This act 
is a form of sympathetic magic designed to show the spirits 
what the ritual participants want. They hope that the arti- 
ficial rain will call forth real rain. As this procedure continues, 


helpers pour all of the food offerings over the altar. Meanwhile, 
the seed figures having been moved beforehand, the copalera 
continuously rings a bell. Led by the shamans, the entire group 
proceeds back to the area of the shrine. Two additional offer- 
ings are made, one to the spirits of the Cross and Fire at each 
of the small altars. The procedures followed are similar to those 
described for the offering at the spring. 

At the main altar, musicians continue to play, and the copa- 
lera continues to perform her dance holding the smoking incense 
brazier. Young girls have put freshly dried clothes back on the 
paper images of the seed spirits; the images are then carefully 
laid in a row on the altar on top of the palm adornments. At 
this point the major part of the ritual is over and the Otomi 
shaman leaves for his house. Every few hours, however, the in- 
tensity of the ritual resumes as people arrive and a new offering 
is made to the seeds. Between offerings, the number of people 
in attendance dwindles as participants go off to sleep. At 5:45 
a.m. on the morning of the fourth day, a new offering is made, 
and as part of the procedure, the Nahua shaman performs a 
special cleansing for the musicians, incense dancer, and remain- 
ing participants. At the finish of the cleansings he passes out 
palm adornments and candles to each person in attendance. 
These are placed on individual home altars. 

That night another offering is held, and on the next day the 
shaman places the seed figures back in their cabinet for another 
year. He makes offerings intermittently for the next several 
days while music and dancing go on almost continuously. On 
the twelfth day the final large offering is made. Helpers have 
cleared the altar, and all the old adornments and paper cuttings 
have been discarded. New adornments are placed upon the 
altar, and the usual complement of food, tobacco, and drink 
offerings are added later. Once again the ritual builds in in- 
tensity as people anticipate its conclusion. The Nahua shaman 
makes a final appeal in a long chant while he stands before 
the newly decorated altar. After he dedicates the offerings for 
the final time, the shaman once again faces the altar and, with 



everyone in attendance kneeling, prays for the life of the seeds. 
Within two days a rainstorm saturated the fields. The crop 
was saved. 


Even presented in outline form the symbolic richness and 
sophistication of this ritual is apparent. One cannot help but 
wonder whether Frederick Starr would have been more inter- 
ested in the paper figures if he had witnessed a ritual such as 
this. He certainly would have noticed that it evokes the cere- 
monial flavor of pre-Hispanic rituals described by Sahagun 
and other sixteenth-century chroniclers far more than Christian 
practices brought in by missionaries. 

No written description can completely capture and convey 
the powerful and moving atmosphere created by the shamans. 
These shamans possess forceful, charismatic personalities and 
an assurance of action that makes them the focus of attention 
and slightly frightening at the same time. These are "people 
of knowledge" who control forces that can kill as well as pro- 
duce rain. The ambience of the ritual with its candlelight, 
incense smoke, repetitive sacred music, dancing, low rhythmic 
chanting, and blood-soaked paper images is both exciting and 
awe-inspiring. These reactions were felt not only by us, the eth- 
nographers, but also by the Nahuas to whom we talked. 

Interpreting a ritual such as this presents many problems. 
For one thing, like any ritual event it is composed of a number 
of layers of meaning. For the purpose of illuminating the role 
of the paper images, however, we adhere to a straightforward 
analysis of major symbols as explained by Nahua informants. 
The ritual is a systematic attempt to control elements that 
are responsible for crop fertility and growth. The Nahuas ex- 
plain that many factors or conditions affecting crop success or 
failure are directed by spirit entities. The shaman does not try 
to control these spirits in a mechanical way, but rather he 
tries to influence their behavior using what amounts to recip- 
rocal exchanges. Rituals are exchanges in which offerings are 


made to spirits so that they will feel obligated to supply the 
conditions necessary for crop productivity. Even the dangerous 
wind spirits are given offerings of the best food and drink 
before they are exhorted to depart. Adorned altars are designed 
to be beautiful places, a microcosm of the universe, with palm 
and marigold stars on the arch above and a display to the earth 
below. Human and spirit tastes are believed to overlap, except 
that the spirits crave blood, which the shaman supplies by 
sacrificing birds. The ritual, in short, is part of a social exchange 
between the human and spirit worlds. Spirits repay the gifts 
by providing the conditions leading to green and healthy fields. 

For several of the symbolic components of this ritual we were 
unable to elicit a native interpretation. Shamans did not seem 
to know the meaning of certain adornments or symbolic acts 
and answered our questions with the statement, u This is the 
way we do it." We could not discover the precise meaning of 
the bamboo forks, for example, although it is possible that they 
symbolize the growing plant. When asked, the Nahua shaman 
could say only that they are demonstrations or "models" 
(muestras) for the spirits. Another unknown is why the people 
holding candles and palm adornments face the four directions. 
Perhaps this action is a reflection of the widespread American 
Indian idea that the four directions are sacred. These com- 
ponents may relate more strictly to the Otomi symbolic system, 
which would explain why the Nahuas did not seem to know 
their meaning. 

Other elements were easily explained by our informants. 
Richly aromatic copal incense smoke is a universal sacralizing 
agent in the Huasteca area, as are candles and music, which 
together constitute an offering of beauty to the spirits. The 
pot containing water and the lighted candle is a special offering 
to the related spirits of Thunder, Lightning, and Water de- 
signed to achieve relief from drought. The group of young girls 
who sway before the altars during offerings symbolize potential 
fertility. They are like the seeds — unmanifested productivity — 
and they are seen as proper companions to the seed spirits. 
It is no coincidence that the majority of the paper seed images 



are dressed in clothes exactly like those worn by young village 

The four major altars were built to the seeds and associated 
spirits: Fire, the Cross, and Water. Fire is a manifestation of 
a spirit called Xauantsi or Tlixauantsi, which lives in the hearth 
stones of each household. It symbolizes the house and family 
and acts as a kind of guardian of the kin group. The cross in 
the form used in the ritual is probably borrowed from Christian 
missionaries, although there was also a cross in pre-Hispanic 
times that was highly charged with meaning. For contemporary 
Indians it has come to symbolize the sun (see chapter 4). 
Viewed as a whole, then, the major altars are dedicated to 
the seeds and entities that promote seed growth, the sun, water, 
and the kin group. The ritual thus both models the forces that 
underlie village life in the Huasteca and constitutes an attempt 
to interact with them. 

In the background, however, is a spirit entity so encompas- 
sing and crucial that it is rarely emphasized in rituals. It is the 
Earth. Without the continuous presence of the Earth there can 
be no crops, people, or rituals. In Xochitlalia the Earth's 
presence is marked by the small displays placed under each of 
the altars to the seeds, Fire, the Cross, and Water. The location 
and subtlety of these displays do not diminish the importance 
of the Earth, but, rather, indicate that it is basic to, or sym- 
bolically prior to, all other activities. 

The focus of ritual activity is clearly the paper images, both 
those kept permanently in the wooden cabinet and those cut 
by the shaman. Once sacralized in copal smoke, the figures 
acquire the ability to attract the life-forces of spirits they repre- 
sent and, in so doing, become ritually potent in their own right. 
The fact that many images are cut partly reflects the large num- 
ber of spirits included in the offering and, more importantly, 
reveals a high degree of repetition. Repetition in paper cutting, 
just as in chanting, is a way to emphasize or highlight something 
significant. Paper images are visual representations of important 
concepts — concrete symbols that help ritual participants center 
their minds and emotions on significant ideas in the religious 


system. The images add to the symbolic richness of the ritual 
while simultaneously reducing religious abstractions to a more 
easily understood and manipulable physical form. 

The ritual event contains many of the major elements that 
are common to the costumbre complex throughout the region. 
These common elements include the use of paper images to 
represent spirits, the construction of altars, the dedication of 
offerings, addressing the spirits through chanting, and the gen- 
eral strategy of entering into exchange relations with spirits. 
Dozens of smaller elements are also shared among the Nahuas, 
Otomis, and Tepehuas, such as the use of copal incense, can- 
dles, the palm and marigold adornments, tobacco, aguardiente, 
guitar and violin music, and so on. The three additional rituals 
described in chapters 4 to 6 share these and many additional 
features. Perhaps most important is that the spirits addressed 
during rituals are similar throughout the region. Each village 
has its malos aires, Water, Earth, and seed spirits, and Christian- 
derived elements such as saints and the Roman cross. Inter- 
estingly, the paper images that represent these spirits and that 
are the focus of ritual behavior also share commonalities. These 
will be discussed in the following chapters. 

Xochitlalia also reveals certain characteristics of the costumbre 
complex that are puzzling and problematic to outside observers. 
First, there exist multitudes of spirits, many of which seem to 
be simply slight variations on one another. The earth display, 
for example, contains dozens of different paper images, all rep- 
resenting aspects or perhaps alter egos of the earth spirit. Each 
variation, however slight, can have a different nature and often 
a different name. Second, subtle contradictions often exist in 
the spirit realm. Although the seeds, for example, are captured 
in the wooden cabinet, they live in a cave on a sacred hill. 
The ritual is intended to produce rain, yet the spirits most 
directly connected to rainmaking (Thunder, Lightning, and 
Water) play relatively minor roles. These and additional puzzles 
are also discussed in the following chapters. 

Regardless of the ultimate meanings of symbols or their ap- 


parent inconsistencies, Xochitlalia demonstrates that paper per- 
sists as a central feature in Indian rituals even 450 years after 
the Spanish Conquest. It further illustrates that the paper 
images themselves must be examined and analyzed to under- 
stand Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua religions and world views. 



Throughout its history the region in which paper cult figures 
are found has had a reputation for being remote and difficult 
to traverse. Its tropical climate and mountainous terrain have 
impeded conquerors and discouraged settlement by Europeans. 
It has traditionally served as a zone of refuge where Indians 
might escape conquering armies, slavers, rapacious govern- 
ments, and European diseases. Even the missionaries were too 
busy fighting among themselves to have a destructive effect on 
the traditional cultures. The area is far from major cities, it is 
too hilly for modern agriculture, and it lacks roads. Today, 
just as in pre-Hispanic times, it remains one of the most iso- 
lated and undeveloped areas in Mesoamerica. Thus the sur- 
vival of the paper cult religions can be attributed as much to 
the character of this region as to any other factor. 

The region lies along the borders of the states of Veracruz, 
Hidalgo, and Puebla on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre 
Oriental. A majority of the area lies in the states of Veracruz 
and Hidalgo in a region known as the Huasteca. Both scholars 
and local inhabitants disagree on where to place the borders 
of the Huasteca, although it is clear that part of the paper- 
using area falls outside of its southern boundary. The Huasteca 
is named after the Huastec Indians, a Maya-speaking group 
who inhabited the entire region in pre-Hispanic times. Just to 
the south of the Huasteca is an area known as the Totonaca- 
pan, where Totonac Indians lived in pre-Hispanic times and 
continue to live today. Both the Huastecs and the Totonacs 
were organized into political units that militarily opposed the 
highland civilizations of the Mexican plateau. Thus the area 
in which paper figures are cut lies on the border between 



the Huastecs and Totonacs and straddles the region between 
highland and Gulf Coast cultures. 

The area of ritual paper use, which we will simply call the 
southern Huasteca, changes aspect as one moves from the coastal 
region westward. The coast has lost its traditional Indian cul- 
tures as a result of early depopulation and economic changes 
brought about by a highway that connects Tampico with Vera- 
cruz. From the coastal plain moving west, one soon encounters 
low undulating hills that mark the beginning of the foothills 
of the Sierra Madre Oriental. These become quite steep and 
soon present a barrier to travel. In the western part of the 
southern Huasteca the mountains reach altitudes of two thou- 
sand meters, and entire areas are approachable only by horse 
or on foot. There are passes through the mountain range, how- 
ever, and historically one of the most important penetrates the 
southern Huasteca near the present-day town of Huauchinango. 

Although the Huastecs traditionally occupied much of the 
southern Huasteca region, other groups migrated into the area 
in pre-Hispanic times. Between the tenth and thirteenth cen- 
turies the Toltecs moved in and perhaps built the provin- 
cial town of Castillo de Teayo (Stresser-Pean 1971, pp. 586- 
87). In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Otomis ar- 
rived in the area, and during the same period Nahuas began 
to move into the region in the direction of the coastal settle- 
ment of Tuxpan (Stresser-Pean 1971, pp. 585, 588). The his- 
tory of the Tepehuas is sketchy, but they are thought to be 
related to the Totonacs, in which case they may be ancient 
inhabitants of the region (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 38ff.). 
In addition to these migrations and branchings, legendary his- 
tories suggest that the area was invaded numerous times by 
Chichimec peoples from the north (Kelly and Palerm 1952, 
pp. 16ff.). Indirect evidence indicates that Comanche Indians 
from North America also raided the area. During present-day 
celebrations of Carnaval, young men in the Indian villages strip 
to the waist, paint their bodies and faces, and wear feathers 
in their hair. In fun, they run around screaming and disrupt- 
ing the village, demanding a small payment from each house- 


hold. These performers are called "Comanches" (Provost 1975, 
p. 22; see also Reyes Garcia 1960). 

The Aztecs showed an interest in the southern Huasteca 
early in their history. Invasions were launched by the emperors 
Moctezuma I, Axayacatl, Tizoc, Ahuizotl, and Moctezuma II 
(Kelly and Palerm 1952, pp. 22-23). By the time of the Spanish 
invasion, the Aztecs had subdued the Totonacs and pushed the 
Huastecs to the northern part of their own territory. They had 
opened a wedge between the Huastecs and Totonacs, which 
they filled with new Nahua settlers (there were probably Nahua- 
speakers in the area before that time). The reason usually given 
for Aztec interest in this area is that coastal maize harvests were 
more reliable than those in the highlands. The Aztecs had en- 
dured periodic famine, and they wanted to ensure food pro- 
duction by incorporating tropical areas into the empire. This 
assertion has been questioned by Nigel Davies, who points out 
that tribute lists from the Gulf Coast do not include corn. 
He states that the Aztecs were after luxury items: u The coast 
produced finery for the nobles rather than food for the people" 
(1982, p. 183). One of the major items of tribute listed from the 
region is bark paper (Stresser-Pean 1971, p. 594). 

The modern distribution of Indian peoples reflects these 
historical occurrences. The Huastecs live in the north, while 
the Totonacs are in the south. Between these groups are the 
"strange interminglings" of Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas 
that Starr noted when he first entered the region (Starr 1901, 
p. 79). This was also the situation when Cortes landed in 
Veracruz in 1519. The Totonacs, suffering under the yoke of 
Aztec domination, allied themselves with the Spaniards and 
peacefully surrendered control of their territory. This included 
sections of the southern Huasteca; thus, parts of the region 
were spared war with the Spaniards (Kelly and Palerm 1952, 
p. 30). With his Totonac allies close by, Cortes marched to 
the Aztec capital, gathering additional warriors as he went. In 
1522, after defeating the Aztecs, Cortes launched an expedition 
into the Huasteca, possibly passing through the southern re- 
gion on his way to meet the Huastec army. After fierce fighting, 




O torn is 

















San Luis Potosi 











Censo genera 

1 de 

poblacion, 1970 

he vanquished the Huastecs and brought the region under 
Spanish domination (Melgarejo Vivanco 1960, p. 61). 

Cortes and his followers soon lost interest in the area be- 
cause it had no mineral resources they could exploit and the 
Indians were not wealthy in gold (Kelly and Palerm 1952, 
p. 39). The missionaries were quick to move in, however, and 
as a result the southern Huasteca underwent one of the most 
prolonged proselytizing efforts in the New World (Kelly and 
Palerm 1952, p. 30). Franciscans arrived in 1523 to begin the 
task of converting the Indians to Christianity. In 1533 the 
Augustinians arrived; they eventually set up a headquarters in 
Pahuatlan, Puebla. They even stationed a resident priest in 
Chicontepec, Veracruz, right in the heart of the paper cult 
district (Kelly and Palerm 1952, p. 32). Paradoxically, paper- 
making and the paper cult rituals survive in the exact area that 
has experienced the greatest missionary activity. The reasons 
for this apparent contradiction are important for what they 


reveal about the history of the region and the nature of the 
paper cult religions. 

One factor that accounts for the apparent failure of the mis- 
sionaries is the almost continual conflict between the Francis- 
cans and Augustinians. The struggle apparently became more 
important than the mission, and the Indians were spared the 
worst of the missionaries' zeal (Kelly and Palerm 1952, p. 32). 
Second, individuals or whole villages would escape the Spaniards 
by simply moving to remote and inaccessible mountain valleys. 
The Indians' form of horticulture lent itself to mobility, and 
they could move without great disruption. A third factor ac- 
counting for the missionaries' failure lies in the nature of the 
Indian religions. Pre-Hispanic religion was syncretic and flex- 
ible: deities were added or deleted according to the fortunes of 
war or the revelations of the priesthood. The Aztecs, for ex- 
ample, often placed their own deities alongside those of the 
people they vanquished without attempting to destroy the local 
religion. Thus the peoples of the southern Huasteca, like those 
all over Mesoamerica, were able to accept aspects of the new 
religion and at the same time practice their traditional rituals. 
This characteristic of the pre-Hispanic religions, so alien to the 
Spanish conquerors, will be discussed in greater detail in the 
concluding chapter. 

A fourth factor that helps account for the failure of the 
missionaries relates to the arrival in 1527 of Nuno de Guzman, 
the newly appointed governor of the province of Panuco. Pa- 
nuco lies in the northern part of the Huasteca, but its boun- 
daries are vague (Chipman 1967, p. 19). It seems likely, how- 
ever, that the policies of the new governor had a disastrous 
effect on the Indians in the southern Huasteca. Nuno de Guz- 
man was, according to one authority, u one of those rare charac- 
ters whose exclusive function seems to have been that of de- 
stroyer . . . [and] his capacity for hatred was only equaled by 
an apparent delight in sadistical orgies of burning, torture, and 
destruction" (Simpson 1967, p. 38; however, see Chipman 1967 
for a revisionist view of Nuno de Guzman). Partly as a result 
of his policies, the population of the Huasteca area declined. 


Those who did not fall prey to his slavers or forced labor 
policies, however, often managed to escape into the hills of the 
southern Huasteca. The social disorganization that must have 
existed, plus the physical isolation of the survivers, militated 
against the rapid spread of Christianitv (Kellv and Palerm 
1952, pp. 32, 38). 

Scholars have long known that the population of Meso- 
america rapidly declined after the Conquest, but the magni- 
tude of the decline has not been documented until recently. 
One authority stated that the total population of Mesoamerica 
in 1519 was twenty-two million and that this total had de- 
clined to less than one million by 1620. The same authority 
states: "In the first decades after the conquest vast numbers 
of Indians, probably in the millions, succumbed in the hot 
country behind Veracruz. . . ." (Gerhard 1972, pp. 23-24). 
William Sanders wrote that the population of the state of Vera- 
cruz was almost destroyed following the Conquest and that at 
one point the Gulf Coast population declined to 9 percent of 
the 1519 total (1952-53, p. 46; 1971, p. 547). Cook and Simp- 
son, in trying to estimate pre-Conquest population totals, state 
that they can provide little information on the southern Huasteca 
simply because the population had practically vanished by the 
time the Spaniards began to keep records (1948, pp. 2-3). 
Those who had managed to escape from Nuno de Guzman's 
reign of terror or the European diseases that accompanied it 
were also unrecorded by the early census takers. 

The lack of a population base in the Huasteca created a 
labor shortage that prevented the early Spanish settlers from 
developing large-scale farming on their encomiendas. As a result, 
'Virtually the whole province was turned into sheep and cattle 
ranges: sheep in the uplands, cattle in the coastal plains" (Simp- 
son 1952, p. 73). In fact, Nuno de Guzman, who is known as 
"Mexico's first rancher," was probably forced to abandon large- 
scale farming because of his brutal treatment of the Indian 
population (see Harnapp 1972, pp. 3 2 f f . ) . Beginning at the end 
of the sixteenth century and continuing through the seven- 
teenth, the encomiendas were transformed into haciendas. These 


privately owned ranches relied on hired labor and were orga- 
nized around cattle raising. On several occasions the Spanish 
authorities tried to move the remaining Indians into "congre- 
gations" so that they could be more easily ruled. The attempts 
apparently failed because the Indians simply escaped into the 
rugged hills (Kelly and Palerm 1952, pp. 37-39). The War of 
Independence led to great changes in the region as haciendas 
encroached on the remote villages and the Indians were sys- 
tematically dispossessed of their land holdings. Following in- 
dependence there was sporadic guerrilla activity in the region, 
but it was only after the 1910 revolution that attention turned 
to the plight of the Indians (Kelly and Palerm 1952, pp. 39-44). 

The Agrarian Laws of 1915 were enacted to return land to 
the Indians, land which had been expropriated by the hacienda 
owners. This was accomplished by establishing land-communes 
called ejidos, which were similar in organization to the pre- 
Hispanic land-holding village. Interestingly, the mountainous 
region of Veracruz is one of the few areas in Mexico where 
remnants of the ancient land-holding village survived into the 
1920s (McBride 1923, pp. 125, 135). By the 1940s, however, 
most of the Indian lands had been converted to the ejidos, 
which still exist today. As might be expected, however, not all 
land was returned to the Indians. Under the Agrarian Laws, 
hacienda owners were allowed to retain certain of their proper- 
ties. They naturally selected the most fertile and productive 
land for themselves, leaving the less desirable hilly tracts for 
the Indians. 

The Indian population did not recover from the Spanish con- 
quest until the twentieth century and the period of political 
stability following the revolution and the greater availability of 
medical care. Today the Indians of the southern Huasteca live 
in small village ejidos scattered throughout the hills, each vil- 
lage averaging under one thousand inhabitants. The non- 
Indian, mestizo-owned cattle ranches, contemporary versions 
of the old haciendas, occupy the desirable flatlands between 
villages. Interestingly, in pre-Hispanic times the rural popu- 
lation was also divided between land-holding villages and pro- 


vincial estates of the Indian nobility. Thus the roots of the 
modern village-cattle ranch land distribution pattern can be 
traced to pre-Conquest Mexico (Whettan 1948, pp. 79ff.). In 
fact, despite all of the intervening history, pre-Hispanic "demo- 
graphic and settlement-pattern data would suggest that the 
basic relationship of rural population to land did not differ 
strikingly from that of today" (Sanders 1971, p. 546). 

There are several varieties of ejidos throughout Mexico. In 
the southern Huasteca region, ejido rules generally allow indi- 
vidual household heads to farm their own plots and to leave 
the land they work to their heirs. Land may not be sold, how- 
ever, and it may not be owned by anyone who is not legally 
a member of the ejido. Thus ejidos are relatively closed com- 
munities. Virtually every ejido family supports itself through 
farming. In areas where the land is sufficiently flat, a horse or 
mule-drawn plow may be used. In hilly areas or in more tra- 
ditional villages farming is done by the slash-and-burn tech- 
nique. Slash-and-burn horticulture is the oldest method of cul- 
tivation in Middle America, tracing back to pre-Hispanic 
times. Using this method, sections of forest are cleared, dried, 
and burned. Seeds are then planted by dropping them in holes 
made with a digging stick. After two to five years of planting, 
depending on soil fertility and weed growth, the field is aban- 
doned for a number of years, and a new area is cleared and 
prepared. Slash-and-burn horticulture is based entirely upon 
human labor. 

Geographical factors such as rainfall, temperature, and vege- 
tation have a direct effect on farming practices and thus on 
the total cultural adaptation of the people. The paper cult 
region lies well below the Tropic of Cancer and is therefore 
in the tropical zone. An important factor in climate is altitude. 
As indicated earlier, altitudes vary a great deal in the southern 
Huasteca and its border regions. Thus generalizations about 
cultural ecology are difficult since each village is adapted to 
its own microenvironment. In the east, altitudes may average 
200 meters above sea level, while in the western region some 
peaks reach 2,000 meters. 


One method of discussing geographic features of a complex 
area such as this is to divide it into zones. Three basic zones 
are recognized by geographers and by the local inhabitants 
alike: the tierra caliente ("hot country' 1 ) from sea level to 800 
meters; the tierra templada ("temperate country' 1 ) from 800 to 
1,600 meters; and the tierra fria ("cold country") above 1,600 
meters (Sanders 1952-53, p. 30). Each of these vertical regions 
is characterized by a distinct set of ecological features that 
affect the societies living within them. Because nearly all the 
paper cult villages lie within the hot and temperate countries, 
discussion will be limited to these zones. 

Climatic zones run parallel to the coast and change as one 
moves westward and gains altitude. Using the Koeppen system 
of climatic classification, the zone of lowest altitude (hot coun- 
try) is classed as Aw': a tropical, humid climate having no 
month with an average temperature below 18° C with a dry 
season in winter and maximum rainfall in September and Oc- 
tober. The temperate country has two climatic zones: Cfa, 
which is a temperate climate with the average temperature of 
the coldest month being higher than 0° C and that of the 
warmest month being greater than 22° C, with rain every 
month and no pronounced dry season; and Cwa, which is 
identical to the previous class except that there is a dry season 
during winter (Vivo Escoto 1964, pp. 205, 210, 212). Tem- 
peratures in the hot country average 20 to 25° C and in the 
temperate country 15 to 20° C (Vivo Escoto 1964, pp. 198— 
99, fig. 7). 

Rainfall is extremely variable from one season to the next. 
In addition, because of the topography, areas separated by only 
a few miles may receive significantly different amounts of rain 
in a given year. On the average the region receives more than 
thirty thunderstorms a year (Vivo Escoto 1964, p. 196) and 
mean rainfall is between 1,500 and 2,000 millimeters a year 
(Puig 1976, map). The generally heavy rainfall gives rise to 
three types of forest that correspond to the three climatic zones. 
In the hot country there is foret tropicale moyenne subsempervivente, 
tropical forest with about 25 percent deciduous species with a 



height of less than 20 meters (Puig 1976, p. 114). The tem- 
perate country has two types of forest cover: foret caducifoliee 
humide de montagne, which is a cloud forest with mixed tropical 
and temperate species (Puig 1976, p. 223); and foret aciculi- 
foliee, characterized by mixed vegetation dominated by pines 
(Puig 1976, p. 274). In general vegetation in the southern 
Huasteca region has been so modified by the Indians' slash-and- 
burn activities and the creation of pastures by cattle ranchers 
that it is difficult to determine the original character of the 
forest cover (West 1964, p. 378). 

Indians in the southern Huasteca grow maize, black beans, 
squash, tomatoes, chile peppers, sugar cane, bananas, coffee, 
and various tropical and semitropical fruits as their major crops. 
In many areas two crops a year can be grown, which greatly 
increases productivity. Most villages are fairly self-sufficient 
with regard to food although there is beginning to develop re- 
gional specialization. In Puebla and Hidalgo some villages grow 
coffee to the exclusion of other crops, and in some areas sugar 
cane is grown as a cash crop. At a series of weekly markets 
controlled by non-Indian middlemen villagers either sell their 
surplus produce or trade it for manufactured goods or other 
cultivated products. Steel machetes — the basic all-purpose tool 
of Indian men — cloth, modern clothing, roofing material, flash- 
lights, and a variety of luxury items are all high on the list 
of desired items. For many of the more remote and traditional 
villages, markets are the primary contact that individuals have 
with urban Mexico. 

Travel is extremely difficult in the region, which even today 
is penetrated by only a few dirt roads. Most traveling is done 
on foot or over unimproved trails that twist and turn among 
the hills. Even a brief trip may involve a dozen crossings of 
the numerous streams and small rivers that run from the moun- 
tains into the Gulf of Mexico. During the rainy season these 
often flood, preventing travel for weeks at a time. In addition 
the region is covered with dense secondary tropical forest 
growth that encroaches on the trails. Difficulty of transport 
and ruggedness of terrain make much of the southern Huasteca 


and border region undesirable for intensive modern agricul- 
ture. These factors are also responsible for the isolation of the 
people who inhabit the region. 

In general the small villages in the paper-cult region are 
highly traditional. Houses are thatch-roofed, and people dress 
in distinctive costume: a loose-fitting white shirt and pants 
along with a straw hat for the men, and a long skirt and em- 
broidered blouse for the women. Men do not have beards or 
moustaches, and they prefer medium-length hair. The women 
never cut their hair, preferring to wear it in long braids, which 
sometimes hang to the back of their legs. Both men and women 
are barefooted, although men occasionally wear sandals. When 
men leave the village they invariably wear their straw hats, 
and each man carries his machete in a leather case at all times. 
The advent of transistor radios and somewhat improved com- 
munications with the outside, however, has led to inevitable 
changes. Increasingly, younger people are seen wearing mestizo- 
style clothing, and houses are built with corrugated tin roofs. 

To date no scholar has attempted to compare the cultures 
of the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas who continue to use cut 
paper in their rituals. The present absence of basic ethnographic 
research in the region makes the task nearly impossible. Be- 
cause of their resemblance to one another, these groups con- 
stitute what anthropologists call a "culture area," a geographi- 
cal region whose inhabitant cultures show a marked similarity. 

Several factors have fostered a cultural convergence among 
groups that we assume were once quite distinct. For instance, 
all three cultures have applied identical technology to exploit 
their environments. Anthropologists have long known that simi- 
lar technoecological bases can cause similarities in otherwise 
unrelated cultures. Thus it is not surprising to see many iden- 
tical features among the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas. Evi- 
dence also exists that extensive borrowing has taken place among 
them. In addition, all three groups have shared historical ex- 
periences dating from the Conquest, and they are all lumped 
together at the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy by the 
more powerful urbanized Mexicans. Finally, processes of cul- 
ture change, for the most part Westernization, have contributed 


to the erosion of cultural differences. Within the past several 
years, for example, the Indians' use of the Spanish language 
has increased markedly. 

Similarities in the religious systems of the Nahuas, Otomis, 
and Tepehuas in the paper cult region are marked. Some of the 
more important of these are suggested here as a general orien- 
tation to the more detailed treatments in the chapters that 
follow. In all three groups the most important rituals serve to 
ensure crop fertility. This is understandable considering the 
horticultural production base of their economies. A second 
ritual type is the curing or cleansing ceremony, which is held 
to control disease and misfortune. A third type includes smaller 
rituals with a variety of purposes. These include love magic 
rituals and rites to prevent the return of the dead. Religions 
in this area share an animistic view of nature and the universe 
as a whole; important processes and events that affect humans, 
such as sickness, rain, and crop growth, are believed to be 
under the control of spirits or forces. Depending on a variety 
of factors, these forces may act to help or to harm people. For 
example, gossip, disrespect, envy, or greed may cause spirits 
of the dead to become angry. Some classes of spirits are in- 
herently malevolent and may be intentionally loosed among 
humans by sorcerers. Most spirits in the pantheon, however, 
are basically salutary so long as they are not angered or ne- 
glected. In this culture area the general purpose of rituals is to 
maintain a balance or harmony between the human and spirit 
worlds. This is accomplished by making sacrificial offerings to 
the appropriate spirits. 

The rituals themselves are very similar among the three 
groups, both in the structure of the performance and in the 
symbolic episodes and paraphernalia employed by the shaman. 
People in the region use the Spanish name costumbre, meaning 
"custom," to describe traditional ritual performances, although 
in some cases the term is used only if the ritual is elaborate 
and involves the use of floral adornments and music. The pur- 
pose and symbolic content of the costumbre may vary some- 
what from village to village, but the basic structure of rituals 
is shared by each group. This common structure was revealed 


in the Xochitlalia ritual described and analyzed in the previous 
chapter. In the first step a shaman is called in and preparations 
are made. These often include cutting paper figures, construct- 
ing an altar, making adornments, and assembling offerings. 
Next a cleansing rite is performed to clear the area of poten- 
tially harmful spirits. The cleansing itself is highly regular in 
its performance and always involves making offerings before 
paper images of the various harmful spirits. The central feature 
of any ritual is the main offering, which is made on one or 
more altars. Paper cuttings of the various spirits are laid out, 
and standard offerings are spread over them. 

Many ritual elements described in chapter 2 are mentioned 
again as additional rituals are discussed in the following chap- 
ters. Any elaborate ceremony usually includes the construction 
of an altar. This is commonly a table over which a leaf-covered 
arch is erected. About a dozen common altar adornments are 
used by the three cultures. These include palm and marigold 
wands, decorated walking sticks, palm and marigold pinwheels 
that stand for guardian stars, "rosaries" made from vines and 
marigold blossoms, and decorated paper mats used to hold the 
paper figures. Other ritual activities common to the three groups 
include the shamans' use of large quartz crystals for divination 
and the practice of going on pilgrimages to sacred locations 
such as hilltops, pre-Hispanic ruins, caves, and lakes. Some- 
times the same location is visited alternately by delegations 
from Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua villages. 

Music also plays an important part in major rituals through- 
out the southern Huasteca. The predominant instruments used 
are violins and guitars, although drums and rattles are also 
common (Provost and Sandstrom 1977). In some of the more 
remote villages the pre-Hispanic teponaztli (slit drum) can still 
be heard. Finally, animal sacrifice is common among the Indian 
cultures of the area. Chickens and turkeys are the usual vic- 
tims, although on occasion a pig or steer may be slaughtered 
as part of a ritual. 

The pantheons of spirits addressed in Nahua, Otomi, and 
Tepehua rituals also bear striking resemblances. A spirit com- 
plex surrounding celestial bodies, specifically the sun, moon, 


and stars, is paramount. To this are added a number of spirits, 
some beneficial and others dangerous, associated with the earth. 
Water-related spirits are the subjects of many ritual observances 
concerning the control of rain, and angry spirits of the dead 
are thought to be responsible for disease and misfortune. There 
is an enormous proliferation of spirits among all three groups, 
and these generally are associated with one of four basic realms: 
sky, earth, underworld, or water. Finally, the list of saints 
from Spanish Catholicism has been added to each culture's 
pantheon. In many cases individual saints have been combined 
with traditional spirits; Saint John the Baptist, for example, is 
often associated with the local water spirit. The process whereby 
alien concepts are blended with local traditions is called syn- 
cretism, and it is a definite characteristic of the costumbre re- 

The influence of Christianity upon the Nahuas, Otomis, and 
Tepehuas is revealed in their ritual calendars. While elements 
of the pre-Hispanic calendar can still be seen in the scheduling 
of certain observances, the local ritual cycle is based essentially 
on dates taken from Christianity (Reyes Garcia 1960, pp. 39- 
40). Because this work concerns the paper figures, which are 
used only in the most traditional rituals, we have excluded the 
strictly Christian celebrations from consideration. 

Because the costumbre religions are syncretic, in a sense it 
is impossible to differentiate the Christian from the non-Chris- 
tian practices. The Indians implicitly recognize a difference 
between their older rituals and those brought in by Spanish 
priests, however, when they take care to conceal traditional 
practices from itinerant missionaries. Also, shamans never cut 
images of Christian saints from paper, indicating that they 
recognize a difference between paper cult and Christian rituals. 
In general calendrical rituals are more Christian in orientation 
than the non-calendrical rituals. The latter do not have a spe- 
cific celebration day; they are more traditional and involve the 
use of paper images. Costumbre practices, however, may take 
place in conjunction with a Christian celebration, such as when 
a cleansing is performed before a priest arrives in a village to 
sav Mass. On the other hand, some Christian observances, such 


as All Souls, have been so influenced by Indian practices on 
a national level that local practices reflect this pre-Hispanic 

In some villages a formalized set of offices called the cargo 
system has developed to sponsor the many celebrations of saints' 
days. In others, the village celebrates only the feast day of its 
eponymous saint. In yet others, such as the Nahua village we 
lived in, saints' days were recognized only by individual house- 
holds. A household may burn some incense or light a candle, 
but no real celebration is held. Table 1 lists the most commonly 
celebrated holidays taken from the Christian calendar. Eth- 
nographers who have worked in the paper cult region have not 
provided complete information on this aspect of Indian religious 
life (for an exception see Dow 1974), and thus the list is prob- 
ably not exhaustive. Also, variation in village participation in 
the Christian feast cycle makes generalization difficult. In some 
cases a non-Christian observance is held on a designated Chris- 
tian holiday. Examples of this practice will be noted in the 
discussions of traditional rituals in the chapters that follow. 

table 1. Christian Saints' Days and Celebrations Often Observed by 

Indians of the Southern Huasteca Region 

(Actual observances may vary from the official dates given and may 

include pre-Hispanic ritual elements) 


Religious observances 

June 13 

San Antonio (Saint Anthony) 

June 24 

San Juan (Saint John) 

June 29 

San Pedro (Saint Peter) 

San Pablo (Saint Paul) 

July 25 

Santiago (Saint James) 

August 15 

Asuncion (Assumption of Mary) 

August 24 

San Bartolo (Saint Bartholomew) 

August 28 

San Agustin (Saint Augustine) 

August 30 

Santa Rosa (Saint Rose) 

September 10 

San Nicolas (Saint Nicolas) 

September 21 

San Mateo (Saint Mathew) 

September 29 

San Miguel (Saint Michael) 

October 4 

San Francisco (Saint Francis) 

October 18 

San Lucas (Saint Luke) 



table 1. Continued 


Religious observances 

November 2 Todos Santos (All Souls) 

November 25 Santa Catarina (Saint Catherine) 

November 30 San Andreas (Saint Andrew) 

December 12 Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe) 

December 21-25 Navidad (Christmas) 
January 6 Santa Rev (Epiphany) 

March 19 San Jose (Saint Joseph) 

May 3 Santa Cruz (Holy Cross) 

May 15 San Isidro (San Isidore) 

Movable Feasts Carnaval (Carnival, including Ash Wednesday) 

Semana Santa (Holy Week, including Palm 
Sunday and Easter) 


Secular and national observances 

May 5 Battle of Puebla 

May 10 Dia de las Madres (Mother's Day) 

May 15 Dia de los Maestros (Teacher's Day) 

May 20 Dia de los Padres (Father's Day) 

September 16 Independence Day 

November 20 Revolution Day 

January 31 Ano nuevo (New Year) 

It is the participation of shamans and the use of paper figures 
that clearly distinguish the most traditional rituals performed 
from the more Christianized practices. The paper figures are 
laid on altars decorated with palm and marigold adornments 
and ornate, rectangular paper cuttings. Seed spirits are one 
class of spirits frequently portrayed in paper. The Nahuas, 
Otomis, and Tepehuas share a belief that each seed has a kind 
of spirit or life-force that controls the crops in the field. The 
most elaborate rituals of the year are directed towards these 
spirits. Seed spirits are usually portrayed as small anthropo- 
morphic figures with hands upraised and wdth the appropriate 
vegetable or fruit cut from the body or protruding from the 
sides. In most rituals the cutouts are destroyed, but all three 
cultures save examples of the seed figures in sealed w r ooden 
cabinets that are kept on special altars. These paper figures 


are dressed in miniature clothes and have accessories such as 
tiny hats, earrings, and necklaces. Miniature pieces of furniture 
and items of daily use accompany the figures. Offerings are 
made to these seed spirits throughout the year so that their 
"children"— the crops — will prosper. 

Another common class of spirits portrayed in paper images 
is the malos aires ("bad airs"). These airs or winds are the 
wandering souls of people who died violent or tragic deaths 
and who, out of revenge, cause disease and misfortune. Shamans 
control and remove these dangerous spirits in special cleansing 
ceremonies. These curing rituals are very common in the re- 
gion, usually performed in conjunction with pragmatic tech- 
niques such as herbal medicine, bone setting, and midwifery. 
The belief that evil winds or airs cause disease is found through- 
out Latin America in both Indian and non-Indian settings. A 
similar belief was found historically in Europe and was prob- 
ably brought over by the Spaniards. The concept survives in 
the etymology of the word malaria ( u bad air") and in the belief 
that drafts cause illness. 

Various additional spirit entities are also portrayed in paper 
cutouts. These images may be the innovation of a single shaman 
or they may be cut by many shamans throughout the region. 
Spirits associated with natural phenomena such as thunder, 
lightning, fire, water, and the sun are cut for use during offer- 
ings. Images are commonly made of "witness" and "guardian" 
spirits, which are believed to watch over people or to act as 
intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds. Although 
most paper figures fall within a fairly restricted number of 
categories reflecting the types of spirits in the pantheon, a 
great deal of creativity is allowed the shaman who cuts them. 
Paper images are sometimes cut to depict the spirit of a patient 
for curing, the life-force of an individual for love magic or sor- 
cery, or man-made objects such as musical instruments and 
houses for a variety of purposes. 

While each culture in the region maintains unique traditions, 
similarities in their ritual paraphernalia, paper images, shared 
locations, and spirit pantheons point to a shared body of myths. 
Only Tepehua myths have been collected systematically (see 


Williams Garcia 1972), but both Nahuas and Otomis appear to 
share elements of Tepehua myth and world view (see also Reyes 
Garcia 1976 for some Nahua myths). An interesting example 
of the degree to which traditions are shared in the region can 
be seen in the role of the shaman. In all three cultures shamans 
are repositories of esoteric knowledge that gives them power 
over the spirit world. Their knowledge is recognized regardless 
of cultural affiliation, and people from one culture do not hesi- 
tate to hire a specialist from another (see chapter 2). In a very 
real sense the shamans occupy a special status that transcends 
cultural differences in the region. 

A key factor in accounting for the similarities among the 
cultures of the southern Huasteca region is that they partake 
of common Middle American traditions of great antiquity. In- 
dividual cultures are certainly identifiable throughout Middle 
America, but there is always an underlying stratum of com- 
mon beliefs and practices. One authority has even suggested 
that the Huasteca is one of the few areas remaining where 
pre-Toltec patterns survive (Stresser-Pean 1971, p. 601). Of 
course no culture is static, and the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepe- 
huas have changed in response to both internal and external 
forces. The Otomis of San Pablito, for example, transformed 
their own economy when they began to sell bark paper to the 
tourist markets. Additionally, the relative isolation afforded 
these groups by the topography of the southern Huasteca is 
breaking down in the face of new roads, transistor radios, and 
helicopters. It was the absence of mineral wealth that initially 
caused the Conquistadores to lose interest in the area, but even 
this factor has changed. In 1901 the first successful oil well 
was drilled in the region (Williams Garcia 1961, p. 14). The 
intervening years have brought accelerated change as a host 
of new invaders, including geologists, surveyors, and drilling 
crews, have entered the southern Huasteca. Thus the promise 
of economic development is the latest challenge to the tradi- 
tional cultures of the paper cult region. 



Most of the information contained in this chapter comes from 
Amatlan village (not its real name), in Ixhuatlan de Madero, 
northern Veracruz. Concerning Ixhuatlan, Lenz wrote, ". . . it 
is dangerous to penetrate the sierra de Ixhuatlan beyond a certain 
point. This is particularly true if the object of the trip is to 
gather information on the pagano-Christian customs of the 
Indians who live there or to collect samples of papers they cut 
for their offerings and witchcraft" (1973 [1948], p. 139). Years 
later the ethnographer Roberto Williams Garcia noted Ixhuat- 
lan's reputation as a place of rich cattle ranchers and gunmen 
( 1963, p. 14). In the early 1970s, when we conducted our major 
fieldwork, Ixhuatlan was still remote and dangerous. We felt, 
however, that the danger was not so much from the many 
Indians who inhabit the region as it was from the well-armed 
soldiers and cowboys we occasionally encountered on the trails. 

Ixhuatlan de Madero is a municipio— the Mexican political 
subdivision that corresponds to a county. The majority of the 
Indians in the municipio are Nahuas, although there are also 
villages of Otomis and Tepehuas. We set up our field head- 
quarters in Amatlan, which is located far off the main road 
in the northern part of Ixhuatlan. Amatlan has a population 
of fewer than six hundred people, most of whom are monolingual 
Nahuatl-speakers and follow a highly traditional lifestyle. 

It is appropriate that we begin our examination of the paper 
images with examples from the Nahuas since they are probably 
descendants of the Aztecs, the best-known and best-documented 
Indians of Middle America. We have selected, as a sample, 



fifty-nine paper images cut by Nahua shamans. We have divided 
the images into four categories according to the type of spirit 
represented. The first category contains disease-causing spirits 
cut for curing rituals. The second contains images of seed 
spirits used to ensure crop fertility. The third contains witness 
and guardian spirits that act as intermediaries between the 
shaman and other more powerful spirits. The final category 
contains cuttings used as altar adornments to create a proper 
place for the spirits when they arrive to receive offerings. Fol- 
lowing a discussion of the first category — disease-causing spirits 
— we describe a cleansing ritual in which these same images 
are employed by a shaman. This description will help to pro- 
vide the context in which the paper images are used and will 
be useful in comparing equivalent Otomi and Tepehua rituals. 
To further set the context of the paper images, an outline of 
Nahua cosmology is presented which includes a list of the major 
spirits in their pantheon (see table 2). 

As Lenz implied, non-Indian outsiders rarely are allowed to 
view the paper images or to witness rituals in which they are 
employed. Local missionaries, government workers, and casual 
visitors barely are aware that traditional religious practices co- 
exist with Roman Catholic observances. While the Nahuas 
view Christian and non-Christian observances as part of a single 
religion, they know that others do not share their view. Hun- 
dreds of years of persecution have made them careful to man- 
age the image they present to outsiders. For example, in the 
village we studied, the schoolmaster had lived among the Na- 
huas for almost thirty years and yet he had never seen a paper 
image or attended a traditional ritual. This is all the more re- 
markable when it is realized that rituals are performed almost 
continuously during certain times of the year. We lived in the 
village for many months before people began to reveal aspects 
of their cosmology and ritual practices to us. They imparted 
information at such a slow and measured pace that it would 
take many years of living among them before the complete 
picture would be revealed. 

In an effort to speed the flow of information and our under- 


standing, we questioned people about aspects of cosmology and 
religious belief. This was difficult in a society that considers 
direct questions rude. In response to our questions, no matter 
how gently we posed them, people usually suggested that we 
speak to a shaman. People often claimed they understood little 
of such things and that it was the shaman who knew all about 
them. The shaman, then, not only orchestrates ritual perfor- 
mance, but is the repository of authoritative knowledge on 
cosmology and religion. In addition, only the shaman can cut 
the paper images, which are the focus of so many rituals. 

A Nahua shaman is called tlamati quetl, or "person of knowl- 
edge," and also pachi quetl, or "curer." In Spanish the shaman 
is called a curandero, meaning "curer," or adivino, "diviner," 
because of his role in diagnosing disease. Any adult man or 
woman can undergo the training to become a shaman, although 
most are male. The neophyte becomes an apprentice to an es- 
tablished shaman and slowly learns the complex techniques 
necessary to control the various spirits. He must learn the 
sequence of symbolic acts that comprise a ritual, the manu- 
facture and arrangement of altar adornments, the proper chants 
and prayers, and the techniques for cutting the paper images. 
In cases where a patient is to be cured the student must learn 
to diagnose through divination the cause of the ailment as well 
as to devise the appropriate curing procedure. Probably over 
90 percent of a shaman's professional activity involves the diag- 
nosis and curing of disease, a service for which he is paid. 
To be accepted by the community as successful, a shaman must 
have a proven record of cures; simple mastery of the ritual 
techniques is not enough to attract a clientele. 

A second type of ritual specialist is the midwife (tetequetl). 
Usually older women become midwives after they have under- 
gone a period of apprenticeship under a master. Along with 
necessary medical techniques, the neophyte also learns the ritual 
procedures for cleansing the newborn and mother. Newborn 
babies are particularly susceptible to spirit attack and must be 
protected shortly after birth (Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 17ff.; 
Montoya Briones 1964, pp. 102ff.). Midwives also have a role 


in larger village rituals, in which they act as censers and dancers 
(copalmitoti quetl). In the villagewide ritual called Tlacatelilis, 
a midwife leads the young girls in their procession from house 
to house. 

Shamans occupy a unique status in Nahua villages. They are 
"people of knowledge, " but the knowledge may be used either 
to benefit or harm other villagers. The word for sorcerer, a 
person bent on evil, is tlamati quetl— the same word used for 
a legitimate ritual specialist. People of knowledge, then, are 
viewed with some ambivalence by villagers. In addition, shamans 
occupy a status that places them outside the usual ethnic boun- 
daries that separate Indians of the Huasteca. Nahua villagers 
readily engage the services of Otomi or Tepehua ritual spe- 
cialists believed to be particularly effective. Shamans trade in- 
formation with each other, even crossing cultural and linguistic 
boundaries by speaking Spanish. This practice undoubtedly 
has contributed to the widespread sharing of beliefs and rituals 
that characterizes the various Indian groups in the Huasteca. 

Each Nahua ritual specialist develops a personal style of ritual 
performance that sets him apart from his colleagues. Paper 
images may be cut differently, altars may be set up in a unique 
way, or the chanting may be idiosyncratic. To a large extent, 
a ritual specialist's reputation depends on charisma and the in- 
dividualistic way he influences the spirits. Variations in paper 
cutouts reflect the ritual specialist's attempt to distinguish him- 
self as an effective intermediary between humans and spirits. 
Underlying all of the variations, however, is a shared set of 
assumptions about the nature of the spirit world and the strate- 
gies effective in dealing with it. In fact, as is argued in the con- 
cluding chapter, these assumptions are shared not only among 
the Nahuas but also among the Otomis and Tepehuas. The 
effective shaman, then, must develop a definitive personal style, 
but one within the bounds of the world view of the people 
who make up his clientele. 

The paper images are called tlatectli (pi. tlatecme) in Na- 
hautl, and they are cut by shamans to represent selected spirits 
in the Nahua pantheon (Medellin Zenil 1979, p. 118). They 


provide visual images of spirits as well as beautiful adornments 
for altars. The paper cutouts are not believed to have ritual 
potency until they have been sacralized, usually by holding 
them in copal smoke. After sacralizing, the images have the 
power to attract spirits, and they pose considerable danger to 
anyone not initiated as a ritual specialist. When we asked sev- 
eral shamans for samples of cuttings to take with us, each took 
the precaution of sprinkling the cutouts with cane alcohol to 
keep wandering spirits away. Although the paper images had 
not yet been sacralized, the shamans took steps to protect us 
from accidental encounters with harmful wind spirits. 

Once sacralized, the paper images take on an entirely new 
meaning. While they do not actually become the spirit they 
are cut to represent, they do acquire the power to attract the 
life-force or animating principle of that spirit. The Nahuas have 
two terms for this animating principle, noyolo and notorial. The 
word noyolo is often translated into Spanish by the Nahuas as 
alma or soul, but it literally means u my heart" or "life-force." 
Notonal, the term less often used, is translated as "my breath," 
"shadow" (sombra), or "life-force"; it contains the root of the 
Nahuatl word for heat (tona) (Hunt 1977, p. 89; see also Mon- 
toya Briones 1964, pp. 114, 165). When discussing human 
beings, the Nahuas say that if heat leaves the body the person 
sickens and dies. During funerals the noyolo or notonal of the 
recently deceased is exhorted to keep away from the surviving 
kinsmen (see Provost 1981; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 47ff.). 
Thus the noyolo and notonal are nonpersonalized (compare the 
Otomi concept of zaki and the Tepehua tukuwin in chapters 5 
and 6). Human beings, spirits, plants, animals, and certain ob- 
jects each have a life-force, and it is this entity that is attracted 
to the sacralized paper image. The shaman exerts control over 
the spirits portrayed in cut paper by ritually manipulating their 
life-forces or animating principles. He can theoretically force 
a spirit to act against its own will. It is the ability to manipu- 
late the life-force that gives the shaman power to cure, increase 
crops, produce rain, or engage in sorcery. 

The Nahuas conceive the universe to be divided into four 



realms, each one a world unto itself. Arching overhead is the 
sky, called ilhuicactlim Nahuatl, which is thought of as a spark- 
ling place or a giant mirror inhabited by the sun and stars 
(Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 127). The earth is called tlali, and it 
is here that human beings and animals live and that the fields 
turn green and produce their life-giving crops. Underneath the 
earth's surface is mictlan, a dark, gloomy place where the spirits 
of people go who die natural and peaceful deaths. In mictlan 
the spirits of the dead marry, build houses, and plant their 
fields, but their bodies are like air (como aire), with no sub- 
stance. The sky, earth, and underworld are arranged in layers 
with the world of human beings located in the middle. The 
fourth realm is apan, "water place," which includes the sur- 
faces and depths of springs, lakes, and rivers, as well as falling 
water such as rain, and which acts as a kind of connecting 
passageway among the other three realms. Apan is thought of 
as a pleasant place inhabited by aquatic animals and green 
grasses and by Apanchane, the Lady of the Water. It is also, 
however, a home of the angry souls of people who died un- 
pleasant or unnatural deaths. 

Each realm is inhabited by large numbers of spirits with 
different degrees of influence in human affairs. We will dis- 
cuss only the most important of these. In the sky lives Toteotsi, 
meaning "Our Honored Deity," who made the universe and 
the people in it and who now watches over his creation and 
guards the people on earth. Many Nahuas symbolically equate 
Toteotsi with the sun and also with Jesus Christ (Reyes Gar- 
cia 1960, p. 35; 1976, pp. 127-28; Williams Garcia 1955, p. 
55). The sun is a kind of father image, and in fact it is re- 
ferred to as Tata Sol or "Father Sun" (Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 
139). Opposite the sun is the moon (metstli), which is a mother 
image and which is associated with fertility and the menstrual 
cycle. Paradoxically, aspects of the moon are associated with 
dangerous spirits of the dead and also the Devil (Tlauelilo). 
One ethnographer was told by a Nahua informant that the 
moon is not a god "because of the evil it does" (Williams 
Garcia 1955, p. 74). When the sun goes down for the night, 


stars (citlali, pi. citlame) come out to take over the sun's duties. 
At night stones can turn into voracious animals, and the stars 
shoot arrows (meteors) to kill them. In fact stones with holes 
in them are thought to have been killed by the star guardians, 
and they are valued as power objects by Nahua shamans. Catholic 
saints occupy a special place among the stars called Chicome 
Iluicactli (Seven-Sky) where they overlook human beings below 
(Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 127). Another important sky spirit is 
fire, called Tlixauantsi (Adorned Fire). This spirit comes from 
the sky, but a part of him resides in the three fireplace stones 
of each household where he guards over family members (Reyes 
Garcia 1976, p. 128). 

The most important spirit in Nahua religious thought origi- 
nates from the sky, is associated with positive aspects of the 
moon, and now lives in a sacred cave on the earth. She is 
called Tonantsi (Tonantsin in other dialects), meaning "Our 
Sacred Mother." The Nahuas believe that she controls the 
fertility of both human beings and the earth. The concept of 
Tonantsi dates to pre-Columbian times when a deity of the 
same name was also believed to have the power of fertility. 
The Nahuas, along with most other Indians in Mexico, have 
syncretized the pre-Columbian Tonantsi with the Virgin Mary 
in the person of the Virgin of Guadalupe (see Wolf 1958). 
Statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe are called Tonantsi by 
the Nahuas, and she is invoked to increase harvests and to 
help women who are having difficulty conceiving. Tonantsi is 
the subject of an elaborate ritual called Tlacatelilis (Causing 
Birth), which is held each year at the time of the winter sol- 
stice. In this ritual, her statue is taken to each house in the 
village by a procession made up of ritual specialists and young 
girls. The members of each household make offerings to To- 
nantsi so that she will confer the blessing of fertility on them 
(see Sandstrom 1982). 

Although Tonantsi originates from the sky, she has become 
part of the earth realm. She controls general fertility, while 
her children, the seed spirits, control the productivity of spe- 
cific crops in the field. These seed spirits, called by the col- 
lective noun xinaxtli, which simply means "seed" in Nahuatl, 



are thought to live either in sacred caves located some distance 
from the village or in the sea with a water spirit. Chief among 
the seeds is Chicomexochitl (Seven-Flower), the spirit of maize 
(see Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 128; and chapter 2). Both the seed 
spirits and the rituals in which they are invoked are discussed 
below. Additional spirits inhabiting the earth realm include 
ancestors called Itecu (Seriores or Lords) who live inside of 
sacred hills or in the underworld (Reyes Garcia 1976, pp. 1 27— 
28). Through intermediary spirits called "witnesses" or "guard- 
ians" (onipixtoc aquiqurtxtoc), the ancestors guard over the daily 
lives of villagers. House spirits called mu'axcatl, which guard 
over the people and their belongings, are portrayed in the small 
saints 1 pictures that villagers display on their house altars. 
Among the lesser spirits in the earth realm are the Viejos or 
Huehuetsitsi (Old Ones), which include Thunder (Tlatomoni) 
and Lightning (Tlapetlani), all of whom live in caves on spe- 
cial hills. These spirits transport water from the sea to the 
sacred hills before releasing it to germinate and nourish the 
seeds (Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 127). The twelve sacred hills 
(Santo Tepeme) are conceived of as spiritual beings in their 
own right that house other spirits and reach towards the sky 

One key spirit in the earth realm is the earth itself. The 
Nahua view of the earth is complex and will require further 
research before it is clearly understood. We know, however, 
that the Nahuas see one manifestation of the earth as a kind of 
unified duality called Tlaltepactli or Tlalticpac (Earth's Sur- 
face). Within the unity are two aspects: Tlaltetata, "Father 
Earth," and Tlaltenana, "Mother Earth" (Reyes Garcia 1976, 
p. 127). These aspects of the earth are positive and beneficial. 
They are responsible for the crops and, ultimately, for life 
itself. The positive aspects of the earth are balanced by a nega- 
tive aspect called Moctezuma. The name Moctezuma recalls 
one of the last Aztec emperors (Moctezuma Xocoyotzin) at the 
time of the Spanish Conquest, but the villagers were unable to 
connect the spirit to the historical figure. Moctezuma, for con- 
temporary Nahuas, is a kind of magician who builds churches 
in the cities and pre-Columbian ruins in local villages (Reyes 


Garcia 1960, p. 36; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 76ff.). The 
spirit is thought to consume dead bodies and is associated with 
frightening underworld figures (see below). The earth as a 
whole is a living creature whose flesh is the soil and whose 
bones and blood are the rocks and water. The activities of 
humans, such as defecating, giving birth on the house floor 
(Williams Garcia 1955, p. 18), and planting crops, annoy the 
earth; thus, humans are obliged to make recompense in the 
form of offerings. When the earth must be placated for par- 
ticularly large offenses, Nahua shamans bury sacrificial fowl 
alive (see Reyes Garcia 1960, pp. 35-37; Lenz 1973 [1948], 
pp. 137-38). 

Two additional types of spirits complete the earth pantheon. 
The first type includes extremely dangerous creatures, often 
taking the form of nocturnal birds that suck the blood out of 
their victims. Three manifestations of these spirits have been 
reported: the nagnal, which we were told about in Amatlan 
and which is believed to be a transformed sorcerer; the teyol- 
cuahetl, a buzzard that sucks blood and devours human hearts 
(Williams Garcia 1955, p. 48); and the tlahuepoche, a spirit 
similar to a nagual that attacks newborns (Montoya Briones 
1964, pp. 102-103, 173). These last two are probably variants 
of the nagual concept widespread throughout Middle America. 

The second class of earth spirits are the Antiguas (Ancient 
Ones), called Teteyome in Nahuatl (Medellin Zenil 1979, p. 
119). These spirits were once ancient humans who lived in 
darkness. When the sun was born they went to live in caves 
and pre-Hispanic ruins (called cubes in regional Spanish) to 
avoid the light. Now they send the clouds so that it will rain. 
They are represented by small prehistoric figurines and heads 
that are occasionally found in the jungle and are kept on sha- 
mans' altars as power objects. 

Mictlan, the underworld, contains the noyolo (hearts or life- 
forces) of people who died natural deaths. These spirits have 
a strong desire to rejoin their kinsmen on earth, but they 
must be prevented from doing so. Spirits of the dead are un- 
aware of their power and can inadvertently cause serious ill- 


ness and even death among the living. When not in Mictlan 
they lurk around graveyards and may search for their relatives. 
Spirits of the dead are placated during a ritual observance 
called Xantolo, which has been syncretized with All Souls 1 Day. 
During the observance the spirits are ritually fed and their 
grave plots are cleaned up and put in order (Reyes Garcia 
1976, p. 127; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 52ff.; Montoya Briones 
1964, pp. 151-52). 

Spirits of the dead are led by a fearsome creature called 
Tlacatecolotl (Owl Man). Owls are considered to be messengers 
of Tlacatecolotl by the Nahuas and are feared as harbingers 
of death. The ruler of the underworld is served by ambivalent 
spirits called mecos and by the dreaded Miquilistli (in Spanish 
La Muerta, or Death), who is depicted by the Nahuas in paper 
as a skeleton (Reyes Garcia 1960, p. 36; see figure 12). The 
mecos are impersonated by young men wearing costumes and 
masks during an annual observance called Nanahuatili, which 
has been syncretized with the Christian celebration of Carnaval 
(Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 71ff.; Montoya Briones 1964, pp. 
1 3 2 f f . ; see Reyes Garcia 1960; Provost 1975; and Sandstrom 
and Provost 1979). The final major figure associated with Mic- 
tlan is Tlauelilo (literally, Wrathful One) translated into Spanish 
as el Demonio (the Demon) or el Diablo (the Devil). This 
spirit, which is sometimes called Serior de la Noche (Lord of 
the Night), lives in the pre-Columbian stone ruins found 
throughout this region of Mexico. The ancient ruins are thought 
by the Nahuas to be doorways between Mictlan and the earth's 
surface. The Devil leads other harmful spirits from the under- 
world, collectively called "devils," judios, or ejecatl (the malos 
aires, "bad airs" or "bad winds") to the villages where they 
can cause disease and death (Montoya Briones 1964, pp. 1 5 8 f f . ; 
1981; the Indians' use of the term, judio is explained in chapter 
5). The Devil is also thought to lead animals, and some Nahuas 
believe that people turn into animals when they die (W 7 illiams 
Garcia 1955, pp. 52, 74). Tlacatecolotl and the Devil are two 
separate spirits according to Nahua religious belief, but in some 
cases neighboring Indian groups have borrowed the Nahua 



spirits and combined them into a single spirit, which resembles 
the Christian Devil (see chapter 6). 

The water realm contains the spirits of people who were 
murdered, drowned, struck by lightning, or killed by certain 
diseases. These spirits are also called ejecatl, and they possess 
characteristics like those of the spirits led by the Devil. Angered 
over their untimely deaths, they seek revenge on all living 
people. They are the servants of Apanchane, the Lady of the 
Water, who may send them into the village if she feels ne- 
glected or if people fail to repay her for using water. By ren- 
dering a continual flow of gifts, often consisting of eggs cracked 
into a stream or spring, people hope to avoid her reprisals. 
In addition, she releases the rain that has been brought to the 
hills from the sea by thunder and lightning spirits (Reyes Gar- 
cia 1976, p. 127; Montoya Briones 1964, p. 162; Lenz 1973 
[1948], p. 139; Williams Garcia 1955, p. 67). Because Apan- 
chane's realm communicates with the sky, earth, and water, all 
rituals held by the Nahuas are partially dedicated to the water 
spirit. She has been syncretized with Saint John the Baptist 
(San Juan) in Nahua thought, and some Nahuas conceive of 
Saint John as the male aspect of water and Apanchane as the 
female aspect (Reyes Garcia 1960, p.38; 1976, p. 128). Finally, 
Santa Rosa ("Sacred Rose," or perhaps Saint Rose of Lima), 
which is the Nahua name for marijuana, is considered a female 
spirit associated with the water. Santa Rosa is invoked during 
ceremonies in which marijuana is ingested. Most Nahuas agreed 
that although their shamans occasionally eat marijuana in order 
to establish contact with spirits, this practice is more commonly 
found among the Otomis (Williams Garcia 1955, p. 67; see 
chapter 5). 

The four realms of the universe, along with their spirit 
leaders, are neatly tied together in a Nahua myth about the 
children of Tonantsi. They say that Tonantsi has four sons. 
The first is Tlauelilo (El Demonio or the Demon), who is 
viewed in some cases as an ambivalent figure but more often 
as a dangerous troublemaker. As previously mentioned, he is 
associated with Tlacatecolotl and the realm of the underworld. 


The second child is San Juan (Saint John the Baptist, probably 
Apanchane in male aspect), who controls all fresh waters. San 
Juan is also viewed with some ambivalence since he threatens 
to flood the entire earth, thus rendering it uninhabitable. The 
third son is Moctezuma, the magician, who wanders around at 
night. He is closely associated with the earth and is believed 
miraculously to have built the pre-Columbian ruins in the 
region where Tlauelilo emerges from the underworld. The last 
child is Jesus, who is symbolically connected to Toteotsi and 
the sun and who, as the youngest child, has less power than 
his older brothers. Thus Tonantsi, who symbolizes fertility, 
gives birth to four sons, each of whom is associated with one 
of the basic realms: Tlauelilo with the underworld; San Juan 
with the water; Moctezuma with the earth; and Jesus with the 
sky. The myth is historical in two senses: it recounts the four 
ages of the past when the universe was ruled, in progressive 
order, by the underworld, the water realm, the earth realm, 
and the heavenly realm; and it recounts the coming of Chris- 
tianity as Tonantsi gives birth to her last child (Provost 1981, 
p. 81). See table 2 for a summary of Nahua spirits. 


Nahua shamans are selective about which spirits they portray 
with their paper images. The ones most often depicted are a 
class of dangerous, disease-causing spirits that infest all four 
realms of the cosmos. They are the ejecatl (pi. ejecame, used 
hereafter in singular form as a collective noun), which literally 
means a u gust of wind" (Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 42ff.; Mon- 
toya Briones 1964, pp. 158ff.; Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 127; Knab 
1979a, p. 134). As mentioned in the previous chapter, the idea 
that winds or malos aires (bad airs) cause disease is widespread 
throughout Latin America (Montoya Briones 1981, pp. llff.). 
For the Nahuas, the ejecatl are responsible not only for disease, 
but also for any misfortune, including drought, barrenness, and 
death. They lurk about trails, houses, bathing areas, or any 
place that people might frequent. At the most unsuspecting 
moment they enter a victim's body and cause it to fester until 


the person is too sick to move. They are particularly fond of 
attacking children, the aged, and anyone who has been weak- 
ened in any way. 

table 2. The Nahua Pantheon 

Realms of the Universe and Associated Spirits 

Ilhuicactli (Sky) 
Toteotsi (Our Honored Deity, Sun, Jesus) 
Metstli (Moon, also associated with Tlauelilo) 
Citlame (Stars) 
Catholic saints 
Tlixauantsi (Adorned Fire) 
Ejecatl (Wind) 

Tlali (Earth) 

Tonantsi (Our Sacred Mother, Virgin of Guadalupe, also associated 

with the moon) 
Tlaltepactli (Earth's Surface); also 

Axcatlaltipatli (Earth as a Whole) 

Tlaltetata (Father Earth) 

Tlaltenana (Mother Earth) 

Moctezuma (devouring Earth) etc. 
Xinaxtli (Seeds) 

Chicomexochitl (Maize) 
Santo Tepeme (12 sacred hills) 
Huehuetsitsi (Old Ones); also Itecu (Ancestors) 

Tlatomoni (Thunder) 

Tlapetlani (Lightning) 
Onipixtoc Aquiqufixtoc (Witnesses) 
Mu'axcatl (House Guardians) 
Nagual (transforming sorcerer) 
Teteyome (Ancient Ones) 
Ejecatl (Wind) 

Mictlan (Underworld) 
Tlacatecolotl (Owl Man) 
Tlauelilo (Devil, Demon); also 

Senor de la Noche (Lord of the Night) 
Miquilistli (Death) 
Mecos (servants of Tlacatecolotl) 



table 2. Continued 

Realms of the Universe and Associated Spirits 

Noyolo (Heart, Spirits of the dead) 
Ejecatl (Wind) 

Apan (Water) 

Apanchane (Lady of the Water); also 

San Juan 
Noyolo (Heart, Spirits of the dead) 
Santa Rosa (Marijuana) 
Ejecatl (Wind) 

Because they are ubiquitous, the ejecatl are constantly on 
people's minds. An incident that occurred while we were living 
in the village illustrates the point. Near the end of our stay, 
we visited the village headman, who was outside playing with 
his fourteen-month-old daughter. He continued to play with 
the child as we sat watching from under the eave of his house. 
Suddenly a gust of wind swept through the clearing in front 
of us. Immediately the headman clutched the child to protect 
her from the wind. His wife rushed from the house carrying 
a shawl, fearfully shouting "Ejecatl!" She wrapped the child and 
carried her inside out of the wind. We had seen similar events 
take place but never with such evident panic. We later found 
out that the couple had lost a child the previous year to ejecatl 
attacks. Given the danger posed by the ejecatl, it is not sur- 
prising that the major portion of a shaman's activity is directed 
towards controlling these malevolent spirits. 

Ejecatl spirits as a class are sometimes called different names 
by different shamans. One shaman calls them by the term Xo- 
chiejecatl, which means "Flowery Wind." Another calls them 
Chicome Ejecatl, or u Seven-Wind," to stress that there are seven 
basic types of ejecatl spirits. A third name recorded by Reyes 
Garcia (1976, p. 127) is Tlatokxochiehakameh or "Polychrome 
Winds of Cultivation." This last name is used to emphasize 
the danger posed to crops by ejecatl spirits. The ejecatl are 
categorized by the Nahuas into seven color classes, each asso- 



ciated with a realm of the universe. The color of a particular 
ejecatl reveals not only its type but also its place of origin. 
Blue or green paper is used to portray spirits that come from 
the water. Red or yellow paper indicates that the spirits come 
from the sky realm. White ejecatl come from the underworld, 
and black or purple/ rose ejecatl come from the earth realm. 
When conducting curings, shamans may sometimes leave out 
one or more types of ejecatl spirits, but they usually include 
representatives from each of the realms (cf. Montoya Briones 
1981, pp. 12ff.;seetable3). 

table 3. Nahua Ejecatl Spirits 

Figure Number and Spirit Name 



First shaman: 


Atl, Water 




Tlasole Ejecatl, Filth Wind 




Mictlan Tlasole Ejecatl, Underworld 

Filth Wind 




Mictlan Tlasole Ejecatl, Underworld 

Filth Wind 




Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind 




Atl, Water 




Apan Ejecatl Siuatl, Water-Wind 




Second shaman: 


Mictlan Tropa Ejecatl, Underworld 

Horde Wind 



( ). 

Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 




Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 




Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 




Miquilistli, Death 




Tlecate Ejecatl, probably Owl Man 





Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind 




Tlachichi Ejecatl, Suckling Wind 




Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind, or Tecacual 

Ejecatl, Wind from the Ruins 





table 3. Continued 

Figure Number and Spirit Name 




Apantlasole Ejecatl, Water Filth Wind 




Apantlasole Ejecatl, Water Filth Wind 




Aixcutla Ejecatl, Wind of the Water- 

Face Plant (Water Hyacinth?) 



Third shaman: 


Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 




Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 



Each shaman has his own particular way of portraying ejecatl 
spirits, and each may direct his ritual procedures to a slightly 
different inventory of spirits. Paper cuttings of the ejecatl often 
symbolically reflect aspects of the spirit's character or habits. 
Some have animal horns to reveal their animallike tempera- 
ments. Also, the Devil is considered master of all animals and 
thus, by association, master of the ejecatl. Others are cut with 
crowns or clothing symbolizing their place of origin or where 
they are most likely encountered. Many of these spirits have 
a spiky appearance, which, according to one shaman, helps 
explain how the ejecatl cause pain when they lodge in their 
victim's bodies. 

Following are twenty-six paper images of ejecatl spirits cut by 
three different shamans. Figures 1-7 are a complete series cut 
for a curing ritual. A second complete curing set is included 
in figures 8-19, and a third set is included in figures 20-26. 
Usually seven to ten duplicates of each cutting are made for 
a single cure. 

Figures 1-7 were cut by a female shaman who practices in 
the village of Amatlan. She cuts multiple identical images of 
spirits to emphasize their power and danger. 

Figure 1 
Atl, Water 

19X9 cm 

The ejecatl spirit portrayed in figure 1 originates from the sun 
but now lives in the water. It attacks mothers and children 
when they go to the stream to wash clothes and makes them 
sick. Central V cuts represent the spirit's heart, while other 
cuts signify clothing. It is portrayed wearing a crown (corona), 
which the shaman said helps people to identify which ejecatl 
it is. 

Figure 2 

Tlasole Ejecatl, Filth Wind 


18 X8.5 cm 

Figure 2 portrays an ejecatl that originates from the sky realm 
but now travels on the wind in search of victims. Tlasole ejecatl 
is found in "filthy" places or in the tangled refuse on the jungle 
floor. The central V cuts represent the spirit's heart; the other 
cuts signify pockets and decorations on its clothing. As is often 
the case with dangerous spirits of this sort, the spirit is por- 
trayed wearing shoes or boots. These may serve to identify the 
spirit with outsiders, since most Indians wear sandals or go 

Figure 3 

Mictlan Tlasole Ejecatl, 

Underworld Filth Wind 
18 X 10 cm 



Also associated with filth and trash, this disease-causing spirit 
comes from Mictlan, the realm of the dead souls. The shaman 
said that it rides on the wind, constantly searching for unsus- 
pecting victims. The spirit's power is emphasized by the eight- 
fold duplication of the figure. 

Figure 4 

Mictlan Tlasole Ejecatl, 

Underworld Filth Wind 
34 X 10.5 cm 


The ejecatl depicted in figure 4 comes from the underworld 
and rides on winds blowing from hills or the sea. The paper 
image is used to cleanse the patient and is then left on a sacred 
hill or nearby crossroads. In this way the shaman hopes to 
attract the ejecatl away from the patient's surroundings. This 
spirit is found where there is filth, or piles of tangled vines 
and branches in the jungle. Central V cuts represent the heart, 
while other cuts indicate clothing. 

Figure 5 

Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind 


24 X 8.5 cm 

Originating from the soil, this spirit strikes children at midday, 
making them sick. The black color indicates that the spirit 
comes from the earth, although like other ejecatl it rides on 
gusts of wind. As in previous cuttings, V cuts represent the 
heart and other cuts signify clothing. 

Figure 6 
Atl, Water 

23.5 X 11.5 cm 

A AV\ " A 

The ejecatl portrayed in figure 6 originates from the stream that 
flows by the village, hence its green color. Nahua Indians make 
frequent use of the stream for bathing, fishing, and washing 
clothes. This spirit is associated with trash or filth in the water 
and is believed to cause many diseases. 

Figure 7 

Apan Ejecatl Siuatl, 

Water-Wind Woman 
24 X 1 1 cm 

This ejecatl specializes in attacking women. The shaman said 
that it comes from the water, which is why she uses green 
paper, and that it is the wife of figure 1, Atl. She gives it a 
crown, a heart, and a set of clothes. 

Figures 8-19 were cut by a male shaman from Amatlan. In 
contrast to the previous shaman, he portrays spirits as single 
anthropomorphic figures (see color plate 7). 

Figure 8 

Mictlan Tropa Ejecatl, 

Underworld Horde Wind 

16.5 X5 cm 

The name of the spirit shown in figure 8 implies that it origi- 
nates from the underworld, although it is cut out of red paper, 
which associates it with the celestial realm. The shaman said 
that the spirit comes from the sun but now lives in Mictlan, 
adding that "it rides the wind making people sick." It is cut 
wearing a hat, poncholike jorongo, and boots. 



Figure 9 

Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 


16 X6.5 cm 

This ejecatl comes from the sun but lives in rocks. It is released 
into the air to cause disease and misery when "someone says 
something bad." The spiny clothing causes pain when the spirit 
enters a victim's body. 

Figure 10 

Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 


17X5 cm 

Originating from the sun, this spirit is portrayed with animal 
horns to symbolically link it to the Devil (Tlauelilo), and a 
crown and a suit of spines. As in other examples, it is wearing 
boots or shoes. When cutting this figure, the shaman com- 
mented that u the Devil also has spines." 



Figure 11 

Tonal Ejecatl, Sun Wind 


17.5X5 cm 

The spirit shown in figure 11 also comes from the sun. It is 
released into the air when a person loses his temper. It has 
animal horns, a spiky crown, spiny clothes, and boots. 

Figure 12 
Miquilistli, Death 
16X6 cm 

The skeleton has been used to represent death in Middle 
America since pre-Columbian times. Modern Nahuas say that 
this spirit comes from the underworld but can usually be found 
lurking around graveyards. The only paper figure cut with 
downturned arms, this image is used by shamans when it is 
feared the patient is dying (see color plate 8). By making offer- 
ings to Miquilistli, the the shaman tries to remove it from the 
patient's surroundings, thus eliminating any threats to life. Mi- 
quilistli is an underling of Tlacatecolotl (Owl Man), chief of 
the underworld. 



Figure 13 

Tlecate Ejecatl, (probably 
Tlacatecolotl Ejecatl, 
meaning Owl Man Wind) 


17.5 X5 cm 

The shaman remarked that the spirit Tlecate Ejecatl is attracted 
to the village "when women gossip." It comes from the earthly 
realm and lives inside solid rock. It has animal horns and a 
crown, and it wears a woman's dress. 

Figure 14 

Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind 


17 X 6 cm 

The horns on the head symbolize that this ejecatl has the tem- 
perament of a bull. The shaman explained that it is a "worker 
for the Devil. ,, It comes from the earth and wears clothes, 
boots, and a hat. 



Figure 15 

Tlachichi Ejecatl, Suckling 

Purple (called rose by the 

17 X5 cm 

Gossip or "bad talk" attracts the Tlachichi Ejecatl spirit to the 
village. It specializes in attacking nursing babies, hence its 
name. The shaman said that it comes from the earth and that 
it is a female, which is why he cuts it with a dress. 

Figure 16 

Tlali Ejecatl, Earth Wind, or 

Tecacual Ejecatl, Wind 

from the Ruins 
17 X6.5 cm 

The ejecatl portrayed in figure 16 originates from the earth and 
lives in the pre-Columbian ruins (cubes) that dot the Nahua 
area of northern Veracruz. The Nahuas view these ancient 
ruins as doorways between the underworld and the earth's sur- 
face and as the residence of the Devil. This ejecatl spirit is a 
servant of the Devil. It follows its master in search of victims. 
Besides its crown and animal horns, the spirit is cut wearing 
a suit of freshwater mollusk shells. It can be released into the 
air when a person loses his temper. 



Figure 17 

Apantlasole Ejecatl, Water 

Filth Wind 

17.5 X5 cm 

Also a servant of the Devil, this spirit attacks its victims at 
midday. It is cut with animal horns, a crown, and clothes. 
The shaman said that it is found in the filthy scum that forms 
on the surface of water. 

Figure 18 

Apantlasole Ejecatl, Water 

Filth Wind 

16 X6.5 cm 

Originating from the water, the disease-causing agent shown in 
figure 18 is covered with matted, dirty hair. It is dangerous to 
everyone who goes near rivers, springs, or lakes. 

Figure 19 

Aixcutla Ejecatl, Wind of the 

Water-Face Plant (Water 

16.5 X 6.4 cm 

This ejecatl originates from the surface of the water and is por- 
trayed with animal horns, a crown, and a suit made of waves. 
The spirit causes disease by entering the bodies of unsuspect- 
ing victims when they go near water. While cutting this figure, 
the curer said that the spirit is a male, but dresses like a woman. 

Figures 20-26 were cut by a male shaman from a neighboring 
village who specializes in disease-prevention rituals. Like the 
first shaman, he cuts multiple images of each figure to empha- 
size its power. This curer is unusual in that he does not dis- 
tinguish the various ejecatl spirits by name. Instead he classes 
them all under the name Xochiejecatl, meaning "Flowery 
Wind." The next section describes a ritual in which these 
particular paper images are used by the shaman to effect a 

Figure 20 

Xochiejecatl, Flowerv Wind 


19 X 11.5 cm 


The ejecatl portrayed in figure 20 is from the sky realm but is 
encountered in the mountains and forest. The spirit is cut 
wearing a crown and clothes; the central diamond cuts repre- 
sent the heart. 



Figure 21 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 


16.5 X 11.5 cm 

Eight heads characterize this ejecatl, which also comes from the 
sky realm. It somewhat resembles the underworld spirit Mictlan 
Tlasole Ejecatl in figure 3, which was cut by the first shaman. 

Figure 22 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 


18 X 11.5 cm 

Identical to figure 20 except for color, this spirit originates 
from the earthly realm. According to the shaman, it is prone 
to attack people who are in a susceptible, weakened state, such 
as children or anyone who has been frightened. 



Figure 23 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 

Purple (called rose by the 

16.5 X9cm 

The ejecatl in figure 23 is cut with animal horns, which indi- 
cates its bull-like temperament and symbolic association with 
the Devil. It comes from the earth, rides on the wind, and 
makes people sick. 

Figure 24 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 

Purple (called rose by the 

15 X 12 cm 


This earth ejecatl is portrayed as a series of identical figures 
standing side by side. Animal horns emphasize the spirit's dan- 
gerous temperament, and the central diamond cuts signify the 
creature's heart. 



Figure 25 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 


18 X 13 cm 

This eight-headed spirit comes from the water and is believed 
to attack at midday. In some cases the time of day, or perhaps 
the position of the sun, can stimulate disease-causing spirits 
to attack unwary people. 

Figure 26 

Xochiejecatl, Flowery Wind 


18 X 15.5 cm 

The blue color means that this ejecatl also comes from the 
water realm. It specializes in attacking people who are bathing. 

The significance of these ejecatl spirits can be clarified if they 
are placed in the context of Nahua world view. The Nahuas 
attribute the good things in life— children, crops, and health 
— to spirits such as the Earth, Tonantsi, Toteotsi, and Apan- 
chane. As long as offerings are made to compensate the spirits, 



they will continue to send benefits from the sky, earth, and 
water. Dealing with the underworld is a different matter, but 
here too, if the spirits of the dead can be enticed to keep 
away, the ensuing state of health is beneficial. If the offerings 
are forthcoming, human beings can remain in a balance or 
harmony with the forces of the cosmos. This is not to say the 
Nahuas are fatalists; far from it. They work hard to manipulate 
and exploit their natural and social environment, but they 
believe that labor and planning are not enough to assure that 
their desires will be met. 

Three points help clarify how the ejecatl spirits fit into the 
Nahua cosmos. First, they are often associated with filth and 
disorder. Many of them have names containing the word tlasole, 
which means "trash" or "filth." The second aspect of ejecatl 
spirits is that many of them are brought in or attracted by 
people's misbehavior. Gossip, anger, saying bad things, or acts 
of sorcery draw ejecatl spirits into the village. Once in the 
village, they may attack anyone, including innocent bystanders 
or children. The third aspect is that many ejecatl spirits are 
portrayed with animal horns, indicating that they are servants 
of Tlauelilo, the Devil. In other words, they are the spirits 
of dead people. 

Anthropologists have found that in cultures all over the world 
elements of disorder are thought of as being "dirty" or "filthy"; 
in short, "polluted" (see Douglas 1968). For example, incest is 
polluting because it disrupts the kinship system. Or a tennis 
shoe on the dining room table pollutes because it disrupts the 
order of the household. The ejecatl spirits seem to be part of 
this universal association of disorder with dirt and can best be 
looked at as agents of pollution. As such they represent viola- 
tions or disruptions of social norms and the culturally accepted 
arrangement of things. The ejecatl interfere with the benefits 
that would naturally flow from a harmonious universe. But 
they are pollutants put there by actions of the very human 
beings upon whom they prey; it is people in general who 
are ultimately responsible for their own misfortunes. The spirits 
of the dead have become associated with antisocial behavior and 


are taking revenge on the living. The whole cosmos is infested 
with them, such that they now permanently live in all four 
realms. Interestingly, the curing ritual is called ochpantli or 
tleuchpantle, which means a "cleansing," "sweeping clean," or 
"reordering," and its purpose is to rid the patient and his sur- 
roundings of ejecatl spirits. Ultimately the purpose of a cure is 
to restore the balance between the patient and the natural order 
(see Sandstrom 1978a). 

Examination of figures 1-26 also reveals the distinctive style 
of each shaman's cuttings. Even the images of the two specialists 
who cut multiple images are easily distinguished from one 
another. As different as they are, however, they are distinctively 
Nahua, as is seen in succeeding chapters. Some of the common 
features among the paper images reveal a striking uniformity 
of overall style and symbolic convention. All images are front- 
facing, anthropomorphic, and, except Miquilistli (Death, fig- 
ure 12), have hands which are upraised by the side of the head. 
Many of the images are cut wearing crowns, which serve to 
identify them. In addition the heads have a characteristic pointed 
appearance, with the features of the face always completed. 
The shamans who cut the multiple images are much more con- 
cerned with representing the heart and clothing features than is 
the shaman who cuts single images. All of the images are cut 
wearing shoes, supporting an observation by Christensen with 
regard to the Otomis that dangerous spirits are often identified 
with shoe-wearing mestizos, while salutary spirits are often cut 
with bare feet, like Indians (Christensen 1971, p. 21). Finally, 
it is remarkable, considering the dangerous nature of the ejecatl 
spirits, that their images are so benign. They do not look 
dangerous, and their suits of hair, shells, and waves do not 
appear threatening. All of these features are discussed in greater 
detail in the concluding chapter. 


The simplest way to illustrate how these paper figures are used 
is to describe a Nahua ritual. We have selected, among the many 
we witnessed, a cleansing ritual — used in this case to prevent 


disease — that is held annually to protect village political au- 
thorities. It is sponsored and paid for by an important man in 
the village as a kind of gift to the community. Only political 
authorities participate directly in the ritual, but everyone 
agreed that it ultimately benefits the entire village. 


The ritual is called ochpantli, or limpia in Spanish, which 
means 4 ro cleanse"or "straighten out." It was conducted at the 
sponsor's house by a shaman from a neighboring village. The 
shaman has a large clientele from many surrounding villages 
and is considered extremely able and powerful. He arrived in 
the morning for what turned out to be a twelve-hour ritual. 
After being seated in a special guest's chair, which is part 
of the Nahua welcoming custom, he was greeted respectfully 
by everyone in attendance. He is an affable man with a voice 
made permanently hoarse from chanting. He was paid two 
hundred pesos for the ritual, an indication of his stature, since 
12.50 pesos was considered fair pay for a day's work. A descrip- 
tion of the ritual as we witnessed it follows. 


Almost immediately upon arriving, the shaman begins to cut 
dozens of paper images using scissors and paper he has brought 
with him (see color plate 2). He uses plain white paper sheets 
to cut the witness spirits and colored sheets for the ejecatl. 
He carefully stacks the finished products in separate piles. The 
paper is folded before being cut, which accounts for the sym- 
metry of the figures. Near him, aromatic copal smoke pours 
from a clay incense brazier, sacralizing the area. At the other 
end of the small house six men are busy making floral adorn- 
ments on a sheet of plastic spread on the earthen floor. After 
a short while several men enter the house carrying chickens 
and a turkey. The shaman receives the birds and holds each 
one over the smoking brazier while he chants. His chant dedi- 
cates the birds to the house guardian spirits (mu'axcatl) and 
asks them to watch over the village political authorities. Then, 


one by one he breaks each bird's neck and lays it before the 
narrow table that serves as the house altar. As he resumes 
cutting paper images, an old woman enters and removes the 
birds to a neighboring house where she cooks them for use 
later in the ritual. 


When everything is ready, the shaman digs a small hole in the 
earth floor, symbolizing Tlaltetata, Father Earth. He places a 
white tallow candle nearby, symbolizing the earth and under- 
world, and then lays out bunches of sacred plants. On top of 
and between these plants he lays out the ejecatl images in a 
circle around the hole. The images he lays out are reproduced 
in figures 20-26. As he chants, he sprinkles white rum (aguar- 
diente), raw egg, tobacco, and cornmeal on the paper images 
(see color plate 3). After dropping offerings in the hole, he 
picks up one group of paper images and violently tears it apart. 
Next he forms a bundle of the paper images and herbs and, 
after sacralizing it in incense, he vigorously rubs it over each 
of the political officeholders. Then, standing before each man 
in turn, he violently and with great energy tears the bundle to 
shreds. During his chant the shaman repeats the phrases "Axcana 
Xochiejecatl" ("No Flowery Wind!' 1 ), and "Xiahque Ejecatl" 
("Begone Wind!"). 

The shaman then goes to the neighboring house where the 
birds are being cooked and lays out paper images on the floor 
near the fireplace. After lighting a beeswax candle symbolizing 
the sky realm, he sprinkles offerings on the images and destroys 
them. During this act he chants repeatedly, "Xiahque, Xiahque" 
("Get out! Get out!"). Next, he proceeds to a point outside the 
original house and assembles an array of ejecatl images along with 
a burning candle. While chanting, he sprinkles them with 
offerings and then violently rips them to pieces. The procedure 
of laying out paper images, sprinkling them with offerings, and 
destroying them is repeated at four additional places: along the 
trail, at the base of a stone ruin, at a nearby spring where 
people get water, and where trails cross. In all, seven locations 
are visited, including the house floor. 



Similar locations are visited during any cleansing or curing 
ritual. They represent places where ejecatl attack is likely to 
occur. Equally important, the sequence of locations symbolically 
reproduces the average daily activities of the men. People sleep 
on the floor and. upon rising, eat food cooked over the fire. 
Then they leave the house to cross and travel over trails to 
the fields. In the evening they bathe before returning home. 
The ruins are visited because they represent doorways between 
the underworld and the earth, and. thus, most ejecatl spirits 
come from them. This first section of the ritual is a preliminary 
cleansing which also protects the village authorities during their 
daily rounds (see Sandstrom 19S2). 


In the second part of the ritual the shaman continues to rid 
the village political authorities of the ejecatl while enlisting 
the help of various protector spirits to watch over them. He 
has the men stand inside a large marigold-covered loop while he 
rubs them vigorously with a bundle containing witness spirits 
(see color plate 4). Should the men encounter harm anytime 
during the year, the witnesses will report this to the house- 
guardian spirits. Among other things, house guardians have the 
power to intervene and dispel attacking ejecatl spirits. The loop 
is then passed over the men to remove any stubborn ejecatl 
spirits that remain. After the loop cleansing, some of the men 
proceed to decorate the house altar and the hole in the earthen 
floor with the prepared floral adornments. The shaman lays 
paper images of witness spirits on the altar, while women and 
girls bring in plates of food and place them on the altar and 
by the hole. The shaman dedicates the offerings in a long 
chant, and the spirits are finally fed when the men pour all 
of the food offerings over the altar and into the hole. Tlixauantsi. 
the hearth spirit, is included in the offerings by casting food on 
the three stones surrounding the fireplace. 

After several more episodes of cleansing with bundles of wit- 
ness spirits and the marigold loop, the shaman instructs the men 
to pack ritual paraphernalia and offerings into carrying baskets 
so that the ritual can be continued at the top of one of the 


twelve sacred hills (santo tepeme) that surround the village. He 
directs everyone to Tepetl Ahuimutl, a sacred hill where the 
first humans are said to have been placed on earth after being 
created by Toteotsi. The ancestor spirits (Itecu) now live inside 
of this hill, and they stand guard over the village below. At 
the top of the hill the village political authorities set up an ornate 
altar dedicated to these ancestor protectors (see color plate 5). 
At the center of the altar is a paper cutout of the sun as well 
as a dozen paper images of witness spirits, some of which are 
laid on a paper "bed." (The witnesses, bed, and sun used in 
this ritual are reproduced in figures 27-30, 55, and 59). Bread, 
tamales made from the sacrificial birds, cups of coffee and choc- 
olate, bottled beer and soft drinks, tobacco, aguardiente, and 
many other offerings are placed on the altar (see plate 6). After 
chanting and censing the altar, the shaman puts bits of a 
chicken-heart tamale into the mouths of the paper images. 
Following this the men spread the food over the entire altar. 
The remaining food is consumed by the men before they return 
to the village. 

Back in the house where the ritual began, the shaman con- 
ducts yet another cleansing, this time using beeswax candles. 
While breathlessly chanting, he rubs each man wildly with the 
candles. At the end he gives each man one of the candles to 
be burned at home sometime during the next several days. 


The description illustrates several of the basic elements found 
in nearly all Nahua rituals and first described in chapter 2. 
First is the manufacture and use of paper images to portray 
selected spirits. The images become powerful magnets capable 
of attracting spirits, and thus only the shaman cuts and handles 
them in a ritual. A second element is the construction of altars 
to hold the paper images. Altars (tlaixpamitl) are designed to 
be beautiful places that are attractive to spirits. Third is the ded- 
ication of offerings to the spirits. These offerings include aguard- 
iente, tobacco, cornmeal, raw egg, and the meat or blood of 
sacrificed animals. The offerings are symbolically fed to the 
spirits by pouring them on the paper images or by putting them 


in the images' mouths (see color plate 10). Ultimately most of 
the food offerings are consumed by ritual participants. The 
fourth element is the chanting addressed to paper images by 
shamans. Usually the chants are a listing of the offerings that 
have been made as well as a specific statement detailing what 
is requested of the spirits (see color plate 1 1 ). Fifth is the over- 
all strategy of Nahua rituals, which is to make offerings and 
sacrifices to spirits as a way of inducing them to cooperate. 
In the case of lesser spirits, the rituals are, more accurately, 
a way of controlling the spirits by manipulating their life-forces. 

The cleansing of the political authorities is really a combina- 
tion of two separate rituals, each of which contains the basic 
elements described above. The first sequence (labeled the 
preliminary cleansing) is simply a standard curing ritual usually 
performed by itself to remove disease-causing ejecatl from a 
patient's body and surroundings. The second sequence is the 
actual offering to the house guardians and ancestor spirits. 
The repeated cleansing episodes come before the two offerings, 
just as in the ritual described in chapter 2, so that dangerous 
spirits lurking in the environment will be lured away from the 
proceedings. The altars and offerings are as attractive to harmful 
spirits as to their intended recipients, and care is taken to address 
this potential danger to the participants. The techique for re- 
moving ejecatl spirits can be reduced to three steps: first, the 
herbs and paper images are carefully arranged in a kind of ab- 
breviated altar; second, offerings are spread on the images; and 
third, the images are suddenly destroyed. The techniques are 
similar when making offerings to beneficial spirits, except that 
the paper images are not destroyed. 

The offering sequence is also directed to the paper images. 
It may seem curious, however, that the images that are placed 
on the altars and that receive the offerings do not represent the 
spirits whose protection is being sought. Instead, witnesses act- 
ing as intermediaries are the focus of attention. The indirectness 
of the offering sequences differs from the almost brutal confron- 
tation between the specialist and ejecatl spirits in the cleansing 
sequence. A clue to these differing approaches can be found by 
examining general interactional patterns in the village. In- 


directness of behavior characterizes many types of social inter- 
action among the Nahuas, particularly between people of dif- 
fering statuses (see Provost 1975). Marriage proposals, gift 
giving, and requests made to social superiors are always con- 
ducted through intermediaries. Thus the use of witness spirits 
is a reflection of the general pattern and is indicative of the 
extremely respectful relationship between the Nahuas and their 
salutary spirits. 

Additional Nahua rituals are listed in table 4. 

table 4. Major Nahua Rituals 

Ochpantli: Curing-cleansing ritual varying from two to twenty-four 
hours in length. Paper images: ejecatl figures, tortilla napkins, wit- 
nesses and guardians, the sun (Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 137ff., 144; 
Sandstrom 1975, pp. 147ff.; 1978a; 1982; Williams Garcia 1955, 
pp. 40ff.). 

Xochitlalia or Chicomexochitl: Prerainy season crop-fertility ritual. 
Paper images: ejecatl figures, tortilla napkins, seed images, addi- 
tional spirits connected to rain (see chapter 2; Medellin Zenil 1979, 
pp. 115-16; Sandstrom 1975, pp. 232ff.; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 

Quitlacuahti Xinaxtli Pilsintsi: Offering to young maize plant held 
after planting. Paper images: figure of young maize (Sandstrom 
1975, pp. 221ff.). 

Sintlacua: Offering to mature maize plant; held at harvest time. Paper 
images: figure of mature maize (Sandstrom 1975, pp. 22 Iff.). 

Tlamanas: Ritual held at harvest of first young ears of corn. Paper 
images: no information (Medellin Zenil 1979, pp. 116; Williams 
Garcia 1955, pp. 14, 65ff.; 1966, pp. 345ff.). 

Xantolo: Ceremony to feed the souls of ancestors; syncretized with 
All Souls. Paper images: shawls for female ancestors (see color 
plate 9) (Medellin Zenil 1979, pp. 116-17; Montova Briones 1964, 
pp. 151ff.; Reyes Garcia 1960, pp. 39-40; Sandstrom 1975, pp. 
247ff.; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 53ff.). 

Tlacatelilis: Fertility rite connected to the winter solstice. Paper 



table 4. Continued 

images: ejecatl figures and tortilla napkins used in preliminary 
cleansing (Sandstrom 1975, pp. 188ff.; 1982). 

Yancuic Xiuitl: Feast given for old and new year spirits; syncretized 
with New Year's Day. Paper images: ejecatl figures and tortilla 
napkins used in preliminary cleansing (Montoya Briones 1964, p. 
148; Reyes Garcia 1960, p. 39; Sandstrom 1975, pp. 215ff.). 

Nanahuatili: The Devil and his servants, impersonated by young men, 
dance and demand "payment' 1 from each household; syncretized 
with the Christian celebration of Carnival. No paper images used 
(Montoya Briones 1964, pp. 1 3 2 f f . ; Provost 1975; Reyes Garcia 
1960, pp. 39, 54ff.; Sandstrom 1975, pp. 254ff.; Williams Garcia 
1955, pp. 71 ff.). 

Xantucarus: Ritual feeding of the spirits of those who died violently; 
syncretized with Holy Cross. No paper images used (Sandstrom 
1975, pp. 259ff.). 

House Blessing: Held after a house is built to insure protection of 
the family. Paper images: no information (Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 
139ft; William Garcia 1955, pp. 70-71). 

Maltiscone: Naming ceremony and cleansing ritual for newborn in- 
fant. Paper images: no information (Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 
17ff.; 1957, pp. 52ff.). 

Momapacas or Tlapahpacayotl: Handwashing ceremony held among 
ritual kinsmen of newborn infant. Paper images: no information 
(Medellin Zenil 1979, pp. 117-18; Reyes Garcia 1960, p. 41; Wil- 
liams Garcia 1955, pp. 30ff.; 1957, pp. 55ff.). 

Titeixpia: Funeral ritual to keep away spirit of the dead. Paper 
images: no information (Montoya Briones 1964, pp. 109ff.; Pro- 
vost 1981; Sandstrom 1975, p. 260; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 
48ff.; 1957, pp. 62-63). 

Tliquixtis: New flame ceremony held approximately nine days after 
death; signals final departure of spirit of the dead. Paper images: 
no information (Sandstrom 1975, p. 262; Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 
51ff.; 1957, p. 63). 

Cabo de Ario: Rite marking first-year anniversary of death. Paper 
images: no information (Williams Garcia 1955, pp. 51-52). 

It is impossible to make a complete list since shamans are con- 
tinually creating rituals or adding innovations to the ones that 



have become somewhat standardized. The table indicates the 
range of rituals performed and the types of paper images as- 
sociated with each one. 


The importance of spirits that act as intermediaries between 
humans and more powerful spirits is clearly illustrated in the 
ritual just described. As mentioned, the witnesses cut for the 
ritual appear in figures 17-30. Figures 27 and 29 are female 
witnesses, while figures 28 and 30 are their male companions. 
All are portrayed wearing shoes and poncholike clothing called 
jorongos. The shoes in this case symbolize the traveling these 
witnesses do between the human and spirit realms. Designs 
cut into the clothing represent decorations in figures 27 and 29 
and doorways (puertas) in figures 28 and 30. The doorways act 
as conduits to the ancestor spirits. 

Figure 27 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc, 

Senior Witness 
24.5 X 8 cm 

Figure 28 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc, 

Senior Witness 

24.5 X 7.5 cm 



Figure 29 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc, 

Senior Witness 
24.5 X 8 cm 

Figure 30 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc, 

Senior Witness 

23 X 7.5 cm 

Note that the shaman calls them "senior" witnesses to indi- 
cate that they have greater power than ordinary witnesses. The 
headdresses of these spirits are difficult to interpret. When 
asked about them, the shaman simply said that they are crowns 
(coronas) that serve to identify each image. The comblike crown 
in figure 30 is sometimes identified as a symbolic representation 
of the devouring jaws of the earth. Finally, the head shape is 
reminiscent of the form exhibited in ejecatl spirits. 

The following seven images are witness and guardian spirits 
cut by other shamans. Both witness and guardian spirits can act 
as intermediaries. As previously seen, witnesses generally watch 
over people and report to the ancestors if someone is sick, 



that is, if they are attacked by ejecatl spirits. Occasionally the 
shaman enlists the aid of witness spirits to cure a patient or 
watch over people recovering from an ejecatl attack. Guardian 
spirits, on the other hand, generally take a more active role and 
are able to ward off attacks from the ejecatl or from a sorcerer. 
They have the power to intercept misfortune themselves with- 
out the aid of more powerful deities. The distinction between 
witness and guardian spirits is not completely clear, however, 
since sometimes guardians act like witnesses. In this case they 
are called guardian-witnesses (see figures 36 and 37). 

Figures 31 and 32 were cut by a female shaman, and they 
are some of the very few examples we have seen in which the 
images are cut side by side (see figure 24). 

Figure 31 

Onipixtoc Aquiqufixtoc, 

Senior Witnesses 
34 X 10.5 cm 

The shaman said that these eight figures represent witnesses 
who take offerings to the ancestors inside the sacred hill. Each 
figure has a V-shaped heart and additional cuts represent cloth- 
ing. She added that these spirits are good (cuali) because they 
ask the ancestors to watch over people. During rituals, this 
paper image is laid on a paper bed (figure 57) and sprinkled 
with offerings. 


34 X 11.5 cm 

The cutout in figure 32 represents a specialized category of 
guardian spirits associated with the earth. The shaman cut them 



with clothing decorations and multitiered crowns. The guard- 
ians intercept disease-causing spirits before they can harm pa- 
tients. During rituals they are laid out on a paper bed (figure 
58), and offerings are sprinkled on them. As with other guardian 
and witness spirits, they are not destroyed after the offering. 

Figures 33, 34, 35, and 53 were cut as a complete set of witness 
spirits with accompanying bed. The shaman makes offerings to 
the images and then leaves them on the patient's home altar. 

Figure 33 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tepetl), 

Hill Witness 
18.5 X6.5 cm 

This cutting is a companion of figure 35. It represents a male 
witness spirit propitiated during elaborate curing rites. It is 
portrayed with a crown and four pockets in its clothes. The 
spirit lives on the tops of hills and says good things to powerful 
ancestor spirits on a person's behalf. The shaman added that 
this hill witness can also guard over people and report to the 
ancestors if someone is sick. 

Figure 34 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tlali^ 

Earth Witness 
13.5 X5.5 cm 

Like figure 32, this spirit is associated with the earth, although 
in this portrayal it wears no crown. The four cuts represent 
pockets. This image, like figure 33, is also a male companion 
of figure 35 and is used in rituals held to cure and protect 

Figure 35 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Tepetl), 

Hill Witness 
17X7 cm 

The female hill witness portrayed here is the companion of 
both figures 33 and 34. It is portrayed with a crown, two 
pockets, and a row of cuts representing a woman's dress. Like 
the others, this spirit is cut by shamans to cure disease, watch 
over patients, and intercede with more powerful entities on 
people's behalf. 

The last two figures in this series are guardian witnesses. Note 
that they are cut with the bare feet, which symbolically place 
them in the Indian world. The absence of shoes further indi- 
cates that they, unlike the witnesses, are something more than 
simple go-betweens. 

Figure 36 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Guardian), 

Guardian Witness 
18.5 X6cm 

This unusual guardian witness of unknown sex has a hornlike 
headdress and winglike cuts on each side. Since the spirit has 
the power to protect people from harm, offerings are specifically 
dedicated to it by name in curing rituals. The cutout image 
is part of a sacred bundle that includes a companion spirit 
(figure 37), palm and marigold adornments, a mirror used in 
divinations, and a paper "bed" (see figure 52). The bundle 
is rubbed over a patient to remove harmful spirits that may 
have entered his body. This spirit, like figures 32 and 34, 
originates from the earth. 

Figure 37 

Onipixtoc Aquiqui'ixtoc (Guardian 

Guardian Witness 
17.5 X5.5 cm 

A female companion of figure 36, this spirit is also a guardian 
witness that protects people from harm and is included as part 
of the sacred bundle used to cleanse and cure patients. If the 
bundle also contains cutouts of disease-causing spirits, it is 
destroyed and discarded outside of the village. If .the bundle 
contains only guardian-witness spirits such as the ones por- 
trayed here, it can be kept on the house altar indefinitely. 



Nahua shamans also conduct private and public rituals to insure 
success in the villagers' fields. A central feature of these rituals 
is the propitiation of seed spirits called Xinaxtli, which are 
believed to have direct control over crop productivity. Each 
cultigen has its own spirit, although paramount among them is 
maize, called Chicomexochitl, "Seven-Flower" (see annotation 
under figure 40). The seeds are controlled by Tonantsi, who is 
viewed as their mother. Seed spirits are not seen as awesome 
and powerful like the ancestors who have to be dealt with 
through the aid of intermediaries. Rather they are viewed al- 
most as obstreperous children who must be controlled. They 
are necessary for the crops to succeed, but the earth, water, 
and sun are considered more important. Thus at planting and 
harvesting rituals offerings are made to a number of spirits in- 
volved with crop growth. 

During crop increase rituals, the typical offerings of food, 
drink, and tobacco are made before the paper images of the 
seed spirits. In most rituals the paper images are left on the 
altar following the offering or after several days are wrapped 
into a bundle and placed outside. In other cases the images 
are carefully preserved in a special wooden cabinet throughout 
the year. While neighboring San Pablito Otomi Indians cut a 
paper image of each of the scores of crops grown, the Nahuas 
and Tepehuas cut very few seed images. The Nahuas most com- 
monly cut the maize seed figure. However, certain crops, such 
as squash (figure 49), chile (figure 50), or palm nut (figure 
51 ), may be cut on special occasions. 

An important planting ritual held that acknowledges the 
stages of crop growth is called Quitlacuati Xinaxtli Pilsintsi, 
meaning u To Feed the Infant Maize Spirit." For this offering 
the shaman cuts paper images of immature maize (figures 38 
and 39). Just prior to harvest the Nahuas hold a ritual called 
Sintlacua, which means u to Feed the Maize Spirit." At this 
time the shaman cuts an image depicting maize as an "old 
man" (figure 40). In both of these rituals the people give the 
seed spirit a big welcome so that maize will flow freely into 
the village. 



Figure 38 

Pilsintsi, Young Maize Spirit 


20.5 X 6.5 cm 

Figure 38 represents the spirit of immature maize. The ripening 
tassel serves as a crown, and undeveloped ears of corn are cut 
in the spirit's body. Cuts in the heels of the shoes represent 
roots. Seed spirits live in caves and are ruled by their mother, 

Figure 39 

Pilsintsi, Young Maize Spirit 


20.5 X 6 cm 

Another representation of immature maize, this spirit is por- 
trayed with a heart and four developing ears of corn. It wears 
a tassel crown on its head. The cuts on the back of each leg 
signify roots. 



Figure 40 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


20.5 X 6.5 cm 

Figure 40 portrays the spirit of mature maize, sometimes called 
Chicomexochitl (Seven-Flower). The origin of the name is not 
certain, but Seven-Flower was an Aztec day name whose symbol 
was corn. Seven-Flower was also a deity who protected seam- 
stresses and painters (Berdan 1982, p. 135) and who is related 
to the Aztec deities Xochipilli and Pilzintecutli (Lord of the 
Young Maize) (Monnich 1976, p. 143). The Nahuas state that 
the name derives from a miraculous corn plant that was dis- 
covered with seven ears of maize (Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 128; 
Williams Garcia 1955, p. 61; 1966a, p. 343). Ripened ears of 
corn are cut into the body, and the tassel crown is replaced 
by a hat. The heels of the shoes are cut to represent roots. 
Note that these and some other seed spirits are cut wearing 
shoes. It is difficult to explain why this is so, since shoes 
among the ejecatl spirits symbolize outsider (mestizo) status. 
When asked, the shamans who cut these said simply that "this 
is the way we do it, it is our custom (costumbre)." 

Nahua shamans also cut images of seed spirits that are placed 
in a special wooden cabinet. The cabinet is kept on an altar and 
is the focus of offerings at various times. The images stored 
inside it are prepared from a type of plasticized paper that 
lasts longer in the tropical climate than regular paper. With 
few exceptions the images represent the seed spirits of maize. 
These cutouts are dressed in tiny clothes, including hats, neck- 



laces, and earrings. In addition the cabinet contains miniature 
chairs, tables, manos and metates for grinding corn, and other 
furnishings. The cabinet is a microcosm of the Nahua world for 
the seed spirits who live inside. 

The idea behind the cabinet is complex and paradoxical. 
Shamans state that the seeds must be kept in the box so that 
they do not run away. Should they do so, the people would 
starve. At the same time, however, people insist that seed spirits 
live in caves at the tops of sacred hills. It is unclear whether 
the seeds have multiple spirits or whether the cabinet symbolizes 
the caves. In any event, in the early spring during an elaborate 
ritual called Xochitlalia or u Flowery Earth," the cabinet is 
opened and the paper images are removed. All of the clothes 
are washed and an extensive offering is made to the seed spirits. 
For a description of this ritual see chapter 2. Figures 41-51 
are a sample of the paper images kept in the cabinet (see also 
color plate 1). To our knowledge this is the first time that the 
contents of a cabinet have been revealed to outsiders since 
Frederick Starr was permitted to view the statues in the Otomi 
cabinet at the turn of the century (see chapter 1). Except in 
figures 45 and 50, the clothes have been removed so that the 
paper image itself is revealed. 

Figure 41 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


26.5 X 


In this maize spirit, triangular cuts represent the heart and 
genitals. Oblong cuts in the body signify ripened ears of corn 
ready for harvest. The square head on the figure is unusual. 



Figure 42 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


23 X 10 cm 



Figure 43 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


25 X 9 cm 

A three-pronged crown identifies these portrayals of the spirit 
of the maize plant. They are the most common styles of maize 
spirit found in the cabinet. The three-pronged crown may indi- 
cate that these represent the generalized maize plant. Head 
and crown shape in the other maize spirits reproduced here may 
indicate specific varieties of maize. Cuts representing the spirit's 
heart and genitals separate upright ears of corn. 



Figure 44 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


33 X 12 cm 

Because of its unusual design the paper image in figure 44 
most likely represents one specific type of the several varieties 
of maize grown by the Nahuas. Lines of diamond and oblong 
cuts are clothing decorations. The cut beneath the diamond- 
shaped heart may signify the spirit's stomach. Four spikes of the 
maize plant are cut from the spirit's body. 

Figure 45 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 

White with pink, blue, and 

white cloth dress 
29 X 7.5 cm 

This seed spirit represents white corn. It is clothed in a single- 
piece dress much like that worn by unmarried Nahua girls. 
The crown is a maturing ear of corn. 



Figure 46 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 

White with white cloth outfit 

29 X 7.5 cm 

This companion to figure 45 is dressed in white shirt and 
pants, the usual dress for Nahua men and boys who are old 
enough to work the fields. The bunlike headdress represents a 
newly forming ear of corn. 

Figure 47 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


23.5 X 8.5 cm 

Illustrated here is another image of the maize spirit. Ears 
of corn are cut in the figure's body along with triangular cuts 
representing the heart and genitals. 




Figure 48 

Sintle, Maize Spirit 


35.5 X 12 cm 

oo oqo «0»d9«»o 

This paper image represents the spirit of yellow corn, the 
staple of the Nahua diet. Pointed cuts symbolize the growing 
ears of corn, and the diamond cutouts are clothing decorations. 
Cuts in the boot heels represent roots. 

Figure 49 

Ayotli, Squash Spirit 


34.5 X 12 cm 



The seed spirit portrayed here is that of the squash plant. 
Squash is an important component of the Nahua diet and is 
grown in each field along with maize. The round cuts are the 
developing squash, while diamond cuts are clothing decora- 
tions. The boot heels are cut to represent roots. 

Figure 50 

Chile, Chile Spirit 


size of original unknown 

The seed spirit of the chile plant is illustrated here. Six 
oblong cuts symbolize growing chile peppers, while diamond 
cutouts are decorations on the spirit's clothing. Chile is com- 
monly used as a condiment in Nahua cuisine. 

Figure 51 

Coyoli, Palm Nut Spirit (?) 


35 X 12 cm 

The identification of this unusual seed spirit is uncertain. 
It is likely that the spirit symbolizes the palm nut, which is a 
food crop with important ritual connotations. The flower of 
the palm nut is used as an altar adornment and ritual object 
during crop increase rites. Besides the identifying crown, the 
figure is cut with winglike projections beneath the upraised 
arms. The four jagged cuts in the body may represent the palm 
flower, while the smooth cuts that come to a point are the palm 
nut itself. Diamond cuts are clothing decorations, while the 
triangular cutouts beneath these are genitals. The boot heels 
are cut to represent roots. 


Compared to those of the Otomfs of San Pablito, the varieties 
of seed images cut by the Nahuas are restricted. Although we 
have presented only fourteen specimens, these represent all of 
the major styles of seed spirits we were able to collect. The 
distinctive feature of Nahua seed images is the silhouette of the 
crop that is cut out of the body of the figure. The shapes are 
readily identifiable by everyone in the village, including chil- 
dren. Seed spirits are also distinguished by the roots that are 
cut out from the feet or legs of several specimens. Once again, 
similar to the witness and ejecatl spirits, the structure of the 
headdress or the lack of a headdress are important identifying 
features of the images. We are not certain of the precise meaning 
of the headdresses at this time. Finally, we are not completely 
certain of the connection between paper color and seed spirit 
portrayed. Young corn is cut from white paper, figures 41 and 
44 are green and figure 48 is yellow. These are all colors one 
would associate with the corn plant, and perhaps that is the 
extent of the meaning. The palm nut spirit is cut from green 
paper and the chile spirit from red, which seems straightfor- 
ward; but we are uncertain why the squash spirit is white. 


Not all paper images cut by Nahua shamans are meant to repre- 
sent spirits. Some are decorative in nature; they are called 
amatl tlapopostectle, which means "paper adornments." Figures 
52-58 are examples of large sheets of paper called tlaxcali 
yuyumitl (tortilla napkin) also, cama (bed) or petal (sleeping 
mat), which are cut so that the images of spirits can be placed 
on them during rituals. They are usually highly decorated so 
that the altar will be a beautiful place for the spirits in at- 
tendance. The unusual name given to these altar mats probably 
is taken from the embroidered cloth tortilla holders sold at the 
market. Each mat is covered with designs representing stars, 
flowers, or, in some cases, small images of the cutout paper 
images they are to hold during the ritual (see figure 53). Dur- 
ing a ritual, paper images of spirits are carefully arranged on 
the altar mats. Special flower and palm decorations are then 



laid on top of each image. After offerings have been sprinkled 
over the cutouts, the mat is often folded up with the contents 
inside and then rubbed over the patient or people in attendance. 
This bundle is believed to have the power to cleanse people by 
getting rid of disease-causing spirits. 

Figure 52 

tlaxcali yuyumitl, tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 
43 X 36 cm 

This altar mat is used to form the bundle which holds figures 
36 and 37 (guardian witnesses). The geometric designs are iden- 
tified as flowers or guardian stars. 


/ S A • s\ i \ 

\ \ V < V /./ 


Figure 53 

tlaxcali yuyumitl, tortilla napkin, also 
yuyumitl para tlaltepactli, napkin to 
guard the earth (altar mat) 


35 X 24 cm 


ooaooao KOOflooooV v -~i/ifJ X 

This altar mat is used to hold witness spirits, figures 33, 34, 
and 35, during rituals. Four earth guardian witnesses along with 
various geometric designs are cut into the mat. In the center 
of the cutout is a flower. The fringed ends are very common in 
Nahua altar mats. 


Figure 54 

tlaxcali xuxiunitL tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 
36 X 25 cm 

• <** 

* * A r? % \ ! 

L<<^ - ■ 


The geometric designs on this altar mat are all guardian stars, 
with the exception of the central feature, which is a flower. 
This mat is used to hold palm and marigold altar adornments 
and paper images of hill witnesses. 

Figure 55 

tlaxcali yuyumitL tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 
48 X 34.5 cm 



The mat in figure 55 is used to hold the witness spirits (figures 
27-30) that were cut for the major cleansing ritual described 
earlier. The designs are decorations to make the bed beautiful. 



Figure 56 

tlaxcali yuyumitl, tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 

38 X 28 cm 



ooooooo ooooooo 



This variation of figure 55 is also used to hold witness spirits. 
When asked about the type of cuts, the shaman said they are 
simply decorations. 

Figure 57 

tlaxcali yuyumitl, tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 

34 X 25 cm 

The designs cut into this altar mat make a beautiful place 
for the spirits laid on it. The central design is a flower. During 
more elaborate curing rituals, figure 31, a senior witness, is 
placed on the mat along with altar adornments and offerings. 



Figure 58 

tlaxcali yuyumitl, tortilla napkin 

(altar mat) 
34X23.5 cm 

TKvv^wvY^^Tm / v^^jYTw■ 

Mh>P<4«4i tp»PPH«U 

A A 
A A 
A A 

A A 

A A 

A* A 

A A 

y v 

A A 

A A 

A A 

$ A 

A A 

A £ 

A A 

A A 
A A 

A A 
A A 


&M>D& ^<<j<j< >>[>})> <ft<<j<w 


This mat is cut to represent the earth. During major curing 
rituals the earth guardian spirits in figure 32 are placed on 
it along with altar adornments and offerings. The significance 
of the cuts is unknown. 

The primary function of the altar mats appears to be the 
beauty they create for the spirits that are invited in during 
rituals. In addition they serve as beds for paper images and are 
handy for forming bundles of images for use during cleansings. 
The shamans who cut these did not seem concerned about any 
particular meanings attached to the designs. The Otomis of 
San Pablito also cut elaborate sheets like these, but they at- 
tribute more specific meanings to them (see chapter 5). 

The final Nahua figure is the sun. While this figure is not 
an altar mat or a bed, it is an adornment that decorates altars. 
It stands for the physical sun and not its spiritual manifestation, 

Figure 59 

tonati (sometimes 
tona or 
tonati), sun 


22 cm diameter 

Most Nahua altars are composed of an arch beneath which are 
placed paper figures and offerings. On some ritual occasions, 
such as the one to protect the village political authorities de- 
scribed earlier, this cutout is attached to a stick and either 
leaned against the arch or stuck into the ground just beneath 
it. The arch, which is usually covered with sacred leaves, sym- 
bolizes the arc of the sky. The sun cutout completes the sym- 
bolic representation of the sky realm. 

The front-faced stance of the figures is a common stylistic 
feature of the majority of paper images among the Nahuas as 
well as among the Otomis and Tepehuas. In pre-Hispanic times 
artists rarely portrayed figures en face, preferring instead de- 
pictions in profile. Cecelia Klein found that en face images in 
pre-Hispanic art are symbolically linked to the earth, fertility, 
and end points in the space-time continuum (Klein 1976). The 
Nahua spirits fit the pre-Hispanic pattern in that they are 
front-faced and the majority are linked to the earth or to crop 
fertility. The ejecatl spirits are found in all realms, but they 
are linked to death and by implication to the earth and the 
underworld. Witness guardian spirits are frequently linked to 
the earth or hills, and the seed images are associated with crop 
fertility. As is noted in the following chapters, this pattern is 
also found among the other two cultures. The issue of frontality 
is discussed in chapter 7. 

The large variety of paper cuttings in this chapter reflects 
not only the number of uses to which they are put, but also 
the scores of spirits in the Nahua pantheon. This array of spirits 



is bewildering for two reasons. First, there appears to be no 
end to the number of spirits found in a village. For example, 
the Earth is known as Tlali (Earth); Tlaltepactli, Tlalticpac, 
Tlaticpa (all aspects of Earth's Surface); Axcatlaltipatli (Be- 
longings of the Earth or Earth as a Whole); Tlalimematsi (the 
Wife of the Lord of the Earth); Tlaxueuentsi (Lord of the 
Earth); Tlaltetata (Father Earth); or Tlaltenana (Mother 
Earth). Other manifestations of the Earth spirit that play a role 
in religious rituals include Tlalsisme (Aunt of the Earth), 
Tlaltepa (Earth Place), and Semanawak Tlaltentle (Edge of 
the Earth) (Reyes Garcia 1960, p. 35; 1976, p. 127). In another 
example, the spirit of corn has nine different names in addition 
to Chicomexochitl (Seven-Flower). These names, like those for 
the earth, are not synonymous but rather stand for special as- 
pects, or perhaps alter egos, of each spirit. The second source 
of confusion is that spirits can have contradictory characteristics 
or roles. The moon, for example, is associated with Tonantsi; 
in fact, in some villages the moon is called by the name Tonantsi 
(Reyes Garcia 1976, p. 127). Yet Tonantsi (Our Sacred Mother) 
is the most salutary spirit among the Nahuas, while the moon 
receives no offerings because of the evil it causes. 

An additional problem in trying to understand Nahua spirits 
is that they defy outside attempts to order them. Although 
most spirits more or less fit into one of the four cosmological 
realms — sky, earth, underworld, and water— several do not. 
Tlauelilo (the Devil), for example, lives in the ruins (cubes) 
that lie between the underworld and the earth. Tlauelilo also 
is associated with the moon and the celestial realm. The ejecatl 
come from the underworld and now inhabit all four realms, 
but they threaten people on earth. Tonantsi comes from the sky 
but lives in a cave. And Tlixauantsi (Fire) comes from the sky 
but lives in the stones surrounding the fireplace. In sum, we 
find that spirits have shifting identities and that they move 
between the realms. These puzzles are also found among the 
spirit worlds of the Otomis and Tepehuas, the subjects of chap- 
ters 5 and 6. The reasons for the apparent lack of organization 
in the pantheons of these cultures are discussed in chapter 7. 



The Otomi Indians have long had a reputation for ferocity and 
power. They were viewed as uncivilized and brutish by the 
ancient Aztecs, who used the term Otomi as an epithet. Wit- 
ness the scolding given a misbehaving Aztec child as recorded 
by Sahagun: u Now thou art an Otomi. Now thou art a miserable 
Otomi. O, Otomi, how is it that thou understandest not? . . . 
Not only art thou like an Otomi, thou art a real Otomi, a 
miserable Otomi, a green-head, a thick-head, a big tuft of hair 
over the back of the head, an Otomi blockhead" (quoted in 
Berdan 1982, p. 87). On the other hand, the Aztecs admired the 
Otomis as great warriors. One of their most prestigious mili- 
tary societies was called the Order of the Otomi. By becoming 
a member of this society, a man gained in social status and had 
the opportunity to receive economic advantages (Berdan 1982, 
p. 65). The Otomis of today have the same ambiguous repu- 
tation among neighboring Indian groups. The Nahuas, for 
example, view them as an unruly people who like to fight. 
At the same time, they claim that Otomi shamans are among 
the most powerful in the region. 

In this chapter we examine the paper images cut by Otomi 
shamans. For ease of presentation and to facilitate comparison 
we have divided the ninety-seven images into five categories. 
The first contains those spirits that cause disease and misfortune 
and that are the focus of curing and cleansing rituals. The 
second includes the seed spirits used by shamans to ensure 
crop fertility. Third are the mountain spirits, which act as pro- 
tectors and intermediaries. The fourth category contains adorn- 
ments that in some cases serve to protect the people from 




wandering, dangerous spirits. Last we present miscellaneous 
images of spirits cut by shamans for special-purpose rituals. 
Following a discussion of the first category of disease-causing 
spirits, we include a description of a curing ritual, recounted, 
for the most part, by an Otomi shaman. The purpose of this 
description is to show how the paper images are employed by 
the shaman. 

All but six of the figures were cut in the village of San 
Pablito, the same village in which Frederick Starr first witnessed 
papermaking and first saw paper images laid on an altar. Be- 
ginning in the 1930s or 1940s, a San Pablito shaman named 
Santos Garcia developed a distinctive style of portraying the 
spirits that led to his renown as a master ritual specialist. Later 
when the bark-paper market began to grow, he offered ex- 
amples of his cut images to Mexican folk-art dealers. Within 
a few years the paper images became popular tourist items, and 
a huge demand soon developed. By the 1970s virtually every 
tourist-oriented market in Mexico had stacks of the paper 
images for sale. Before long, import shops in the United States 
and Europe were also selling the images. After Santos Garcia's 
death, his son, Alfonso Garcia, continued the tradition. Today 
he is a leader in the enormous production of paper images in 
San Pablito. The son has carried on the style of the father, and 
most of the images presented here were cut by one or the other 
of these two shamans (Fitl 1975, p. 105; Dow 1982, p. 630). 

The tourist trade has revolutionized the economy of San Pab- 
lito and undoubtedly has caused changes in traditional prac- 
tices. In fact, an important shaman in San Pablito now holds 
curing ceremonies for paying tourists. One researcher has sug- 
gested that San Pablito is atypical of Otomi villages because 
it has been invaded by tourists, ethnographers, and travelers 
and because it has been influenced by neighboring Nahua vil- 
lages (Fitl 1975, p. 162). These assertions are difficult to prove, 
however, since no one has published a thorough ethnographic 
study of the village. In spite of changes, Manrique concluded 
as late as 1969 that u pagan ritual has more manifestations in 
San Pablito, Puebla, than in any other place" (1969, p. 715). 


One researcher has even noted the active support given to the 
native religion by Otomis in and around San Pablito (Dow 
1982, p. 630). The question of the degree of influence that one 
Indian group exerts upon another is difficult to resolve given 
the region's ethnic diversity. In the concluding chapter we will 
argue that similarities among Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua re- 
ligious systems go beyond simple borrowing. Meanwhile, we 
have selected San Pablito as the focus of this chapter because 
of the numbers and varieties of paper images produced there 
and because we believe that these paper cuttings still reflect 
Otomi religious beliefs. 

The information we have on Otomi religion as presented be- 
low is a composite derived from published reports of ethnogra- 
phers who visited San Pablito and from data published on 
neighboring Otomi villages. Some of the rituals and beliefs 
recorded in the 1940s have undoubtedly undergone change. 
Some of the paper images collected by Lenz and Christensen 
are probably no longer cut. But the patterns of beliefs and the 
underlying world view of the Otomis remain. Otomi religion, 
like that of the Nahuas and the Tepehuas, is a blend of the 
Indian and the Christian, and it has proven its durability over 
the last 450 years (see Galinier 1980a). 

Unfortunately, certain classes of ethnographic data on the 
Nahuas are not matched by data on the Otomis of San Pablito. 
For example, Galinier has written that some Otomis in the 
region conceive of the universe as consisting of seven layers 
(mondes): three in the celestial realm; three in the subterranean 
realm; and finally, the earth's surface. However, he provides no 
information on the functions or nature of these layers. He makes 
assertions about Otomi concepts of space, time, and direction- 
ality that are difficult to assess with the data he provides (see 
Galinier 1979a). Furthermore, the degree to which his assertions 
apply specifically to the people of San Pablito is not known. 
Because of these shortcomings in the ethnographic record, we 
have organized the Otomi data in much the same way that 
the Nahua information was presented. The Otomis may or may 
not have a formal cosmology identical to that of the Nahuas, 


but they do associate spirits with the sky, earth, underworld, 
and water. We do not intend to force ethnographic information 
into preconceived categories, but similar organization of the 
data will greatly aid in cultural comparison. 

Like the Nahuas, the Otomis have many more spirits in their 
pantheon than they depict with paper images. Usually images 
of benevolent deities such as the Madre de la Tierra (Mother 
Earth) or the Sirena de la Laguna (Siren of the Lake) are not 
cut from paper. Lopez, in his handwritten books (see chapter 
1; see also Sandstrom 1981), illustrates benevolent spirits with 
an undifferentiated, unidentifiable paper cutout. For example, 
the "Earth Mother" looks the same as the u Lord Siren" (Sand- 
strom 1981, pp. 66, 68), and Dios de Antigua (Ancient God) 
looks like Hombre Bueno (Good Man) (Sandstrom 1981, pp. 
51, 30). This indicates that these important spirits do not have 
conventionalized images with distinguishing symbolic features. 
Apparently Lopez included the generalized images simply to fill 
blank pages in his book. Finally, the numerous Catholic saints 
that have been incorporated into the Otomi pantheon are never 
cut from paper (Dow 1982, p. 646). 

Religion among the Otomis like that among the Nahuas, can 
best be characterized as flexible and variable. Religious practices 
and beliefs in any particular village depend on important factors 
such as economic development, the history of missionary activ- 
ities in the area, the influence of neighboring villages, and the 
capabilities and interests of specific shamans operating at a 
given time. In some areas of the Sierra Norte de Puebla, the 
Otomis have adopted much of the official doctrine of the church, 
and they refuse to go to the shamans. In other areas, however, 
they support the traditional religion (Dow 1974, pp. 105-106). 
Even within a single village variation exists both in adherence 
to traditional beliefs and in how these traditional beliefs are 
understood. However, the cutting of paper images is one prac- 
tice shared by all traditionally oriented Otomi villages in the 
region. Use of paper images implies a shared set of assumptions 
about the nature of the world and about the best strategies 
for dealing with spirits. 


Otomi shamans occupy the same ambivalent status as their 
Nahua counterparts. They are possessors of secret knowledge 
that can be used to cure or kill. They are called pati in Otomi, 
which means u person of knowledge" (Dow, personal communi- 
cation; Galinier 1976c, p. 166). Shamans who use their powers 
to destroy enemies or harm people are seen as sorcerers, and 
sorcerers are an intolerable presence in a village. It has been 
reported that as late as the mid-1960s an Otomi shaman in 
San Pablito was killed by fellow villagers on suspicion of prac- 
ticing sorcery (Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, pp. 7-8). 

The occupation of shaman is open to men or women equally, 
although apparently the majority are men (Dow 1975, p. 68). 
A person who wishes to become a shaman apprentices himself 
to an established person of knowledge. Signs that one should 
become a shaman include miraculous recovery from a disease 
and recurring strange dreams. The apprentice who is effective, 
that is, one who convinces people that the rituals work, will 
earn a reputation and begin to establish a clientele. The shaman 
must be able to carry out many different complex rituals and 
master the cutting of the numerous paper images that the 
rituals require. A renowned shaman may even create whole new 

Dow (1975, p. 68) reports that shamans from neighboring 
Otomi villages sometimes employ the services of female vision 
specialists called zidoni or fadi in their rituals. These women 
are called upon because of their special ability to make contact 
with the spirit world. Vision specialists often ingest marijuana 
(Santa Rosa) to help them speak to the spirits, and during 
rituals they are frequently off to one side weeping hysterically. 
Whether shamans in the village of San Pablito also use vision 
specialists is not clear from the published reports. It is the 
shaman, in any case, who is the authority on ritual performance 
and the system of myths associated with rituals. The shaman's 
most important attributes are his ability to make contact with 
spirits and to control or deflect them for the benefit of other 

Paper cutouts are called da him Otomi and munecos in Spanish 


plate 1. Nahua images of seeds that have just been removed from 
the sacred cabinet for the observance of Xochitlalia. The figures are 
dressed as unmarried village girls. 



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fm ll 

wMm ■' ^^B v ^' " m^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^PI 


;-"^t '?'^^^. 

l^^t ■^■~ ^* , ~~ 


/ ■«*?'.'' ^^8IBBMg mljp^^j 

PM^>^ ^^ 

plate 2. The shaman cuts dozens of paper images in preparation for 
the cleansing ritual (Figs. 20-26). Photo courtesy of Paul Jean Provost. 

plate 3. The shaman lays out sacred plants, offerings, and paper 
images of ejecatl spirits (Figs. 20-26) around a hole symbolizing Tlal- 
tetata, Father Earth. In his chant he lists the offerings and exhorts 
the disease-causing spirits to return to the underworld. 

■HflF ftP^PM 1 


M 1 "'IJelI & 

I^^Hk • ■ w^ 

a ,C JHh 


plate 4. The shaman has the village authorities stand inside a mari- 
gold loop as he cleanses them with a bundle containing paper figures 
of witness spirits (Figs. 27-30). 

plate 5. The shaman and the village authorities set up an altar 
dedicated to the ancestor spirits at the top of a sacred hill. A paper 
sun is attached to an arch of marigolds symbolizing the sky realm. 
Beneath the arch are paper images of witness spirits (Figs. 27-30, 

plate 6. The shaman chants before the completed altar dedicated to 
the ancestor spirits. Beeswax candles surround the altar, which holds 
food offerings and a smoking incense brazier. 

plate 7. Paper 

images of ejecatl 

spirits cut by a 

male shaman from 

the Nahua village 

Puyecaco (Figs. 18, 

14, 16,8, 10, 13). 

plate 8. A paper image of Death cut by a Nahua shaman, unfolded 
to show the eightfold duplication of figures (Fig. 12). Death is the 
only figure cut with downturned arms. 

plate 9. A Nahua family places paper shawls on the graves of female 
kinsmen to keep them warm in the underworld. This is a final ob- 
servance during Xantolo (Day of the Dead). 

plate 10. A Nahua shaman pours a cane-alcohol offering on paper 
images of ejecatl spirits. The shaman is ridding a pre-Hispanic ruin 
of disease-causing spirits. Ruins are believed to be entranceways to 
the underworld. 

plate 11. A Nahua shaman chants over an array of ejecatl images 
as her patient sits nearby (Figs. 1-7). 

plate 12. A bark-paper 

image of the Otomi spirit 

Lord of the Night (Fig. 64). 

Photo courtesy of James Dow. 

plate 13. A bark-paper image 
of the Otomi Spirit of the Grape 
(Fig. 129). 

plate 14. A bark-paper image 
of the Otomi Child of the Moun- 
tain, also called Flower of Heaven 
(Fig. 138). The figure consists of 
two circles of alternating good 
Otomi men and women. 



(Dow, personal communication). The images are brought to 
life by breathing into their mouths (Dow 1975, p. 64), holding 
them in copal smoke, or sprinkling them with aguardiente. 
Once sacralized, they become ritually powerful and potentially 
dangerous to nonshamans (see Galinier 1979c, p. 213 for a 
semantic analysis of the Otomi concepts of skin and putrescence 
as they relate to bark paper and the casting out of the images 
following a ritual). Just as among the Nahuas, the Otomi images 
do not represent the total spirit but rather its life-force or ani- 
mating principle. When asked in Spanish about the paper 
images, Otomi shamans are likely to respond that they represent 
espiritus (spirits) or, in the case of seeds, dioses (gods). However, 
Dow has discovered that the term used in the Otomi language 
is zaki, which is better translated as "life-force" (Dow 1982, 
p. 632; 1974, p. 95). Galinier transcribes it nzaki (1976c, p. 
161). Dow further states that zaki is one manifestation of the 
shadow-soul concept common among Middle American Indians. 
Fitl (1975, p. 105) uses the concepts of zaki and na xudi (shadow) 
to describe the life-force embodied by the paper images. Galinier 
states that the shadow (shuti in his transcription) is equivalent 
to the notorial, a Nahuatl term used widely in Middle America 
for "soul" (Galinier 1980b, p. 27; see also Adams and Rubel 
1967, p. 336). Thus, the Otomi concept of spirit, which the 
paper images are cut to represent, appears to be identical to 
that of the Nahuas. 

The Otomis, like the Nahuas, are animistic in that they 
attribute basic processes and events in the world to spirit beings. 
Dow (1982, p. 645) places the Otomi zaki m six fundamental 
categories: gods, the saints, animal companion spirits, malevolent 
beings, human beings, and common plants and animals. In 
another classification scheme seven categories are recognized: 
beneficial spirits; Christian saints; companion spirits; lords that 
zvejudios (malevolent spirits); human beings; lords of the seeds; 
and lords of the mountain (Sandstrom 1981, pp. 16-19). These 
classifications hint at the enormous number of spirits that in- 
habit and animate the Otomi universe. We will discuss only the 
most prominent of these. 


Among the more important spirits associated with the sky 
realm in San Pablito is Dios de Antigua, the Ancient God. 
This spirit is mentioned by Lopez in his description as the com- 
panion, or perhaps wife, of the Earth Mother (Sandstrom 1981, 
pp. 5 Iff.). Apparently the Ancient God was more powerful 
in the past and has now been replaced by Jesus Christ in 
the spirit hierarchy. Published sources do not specify how the 
Ancient God is related to other spirits in the Otomi pantheon 
although it is likely that he is the Dios de Sol (Sun God). 
Called Maka Hyadi in Otomi (Dow 1974, p. 97; 1982, p. 645), 
the Sun has a role in plant growth and apparently acts as a 
protector of the Otomis during the daytime (Lenz 1973 [1948], 
p. 122; see figure 150). The Sun and Jesus Christ have become 
thoroughly syncretized among the Otomis, and the cross symbol 
now strictly signifies the Sun in rituals. The Ancient God-Sun- 
Jesus Christ complex is remarkably similar to the Nahua 
Toteotsi-Sun-Jesus Christ connection (see also Galinier 1976c, 
p. 164; 1979a, p. 137). 

Another important spirit among the Otomis is Grandfather 
Fire, called Maka Xita Sibi (Dow 1982, p. 645). According to 
Otomi belief, Fire carries a walking stick and accompanies the 
Sun on its daily course. It is associated with the three stones 
surrounding the household cooking fire and is believed to pro- 
tect household members (Christensen 1952-53, p. 267; Lenz 
1973 [1948], p. 126; Dow 1974, p. 99; 1975, p. 61; 1982, p. 
645 ). An alternate name for Grandfather Fire is Dios de Tequil, 
Hearth God. Dow sees a connection between this spirit and the 
Aztec deity Huehueteotl ( 1974, p. 99). In some Otomi villages, 
however, the fire spirit apparently is believed to be associated 
with death and evil (Galinier 1976c, pp. 164, 169). The Otomis 
also recognize a moon spirit, although no published reports 
detail its character or connection to other spirits (Dow 1982, 
p. 645). It is likely that the moon is associated with fertility, 
menstruation problems, and dangerous spirits of the night ( Lenz 
1973 [1948], p. 122; Galinier 1976c, p. 164; 1980b, p. 27). 
The Otomis also recognize Oja, a high god that is clearly of 
Christian origin (Dow 1974, p. 97). 


In most Otomi villages an inventory of Catholic saints has 
been added to the traditional pantheon. Saints are often syn- 
cretized with Otomi spirits, making it difficult to separate the 
two. Probably most Otomis do not perceive Christianity to be 
antithetical to their traditional beliefs, but rather see it as a 
parallel system of cos turn bres (rituals). Catholic saints are called 
zidahmu, " revered great lords" (Dow 1974, pp. 1 04f f . ) . Images of 
the saints are displayed in churches, in small shrines called 
oratorios, or on home altars (see Galinier 1976c). The priest, 
who may visit a village once a year, is viewed as a ritual spe- 
cialist who has power and knowledge in a different system. In 
fact many Otomis refer to the celebration of the Mass as simply 
the costumbre para iglesias or "ritual for churches' 1 (Fitl 1975, 
p. 199). 

Christian practices in San Pablito surround the saints' statues 
in the local church. In smaller Otomi villages (the population 
of San Pablito is about seventeen hundred) the celebrations may 
center on the individual shrines. The saints' days are celebrated 
in San Pablito with feasting and ritual activity sponsored by 
village volunteers. Three or four sponsors called mayordomos 
support each saint. Their term of office lasts for one year, and 
they are expected to pay all expenses for the proper celebration 
of their saint. The focus of each celebration is a villagewide 
feast provided by the mayordomos, the primary purpose of which 
is to seek the blessing and protection of the saints. Obligations 
and expenses that the mayordomos share are called the cargo, 
and the more onerous the cargo, the greater the prestige attached 
to it. One of the major means of increasing one's prestige in 
San Pablito is through the mayordomo system. For more on the 
cargo system of San Pablito see Kaupp (1975), Christensen 
(1942), and Sandstrom ( 1981). 

The Otomis, like the Nahuas, have a complex view of the 
earth and its associated spirit pantheon. In its positive aspect, 
the earth is called Madre de la Tierra (Earth Mother) or Reina 
de la Tierra Buena (Queen of the Good Earth or Hmuho'i 
in Otomi according to Galinier 1976c, pp. 164, 169; 1979a, 
p. 137; Sandstrom 1981, pp. 49ff.). In this guise the earth 


nurtures the crops and makes life possible. Kaupp (1975, p. 
189) reports that the Earth Mother is married to the Ancient 
God mentioned earlier. On the negative side, the earth's sister 
or alter ego, called in Otomi Mu Ximhai (Reina de la Tierra 
Mala or Queen of the Bad Earth), is jealous of their marriage 
and takes her vengence on human beings (see figure 60). Moc- 
tezuma, called Maka Hai in Otomi (or the Spanish Tierra 
Sagrada, Sacred Earth, or Santosoma in some other highland 
Otomi villages), is another dangerous aspect of the earth (Dow 

1974, p. 97; Galinier 1976c, p. 165; see figure 67). Moctezuma 
demands payment from farmers and others who use the earth 
and consumes the corpses of the newly buried. Among the 
Otomfs, Moctezuma leads disease-causing spirits and represents 
a constant danger to the human community (Dow 1974, p. 
97; 1982, p. 645; see also citations following figure 67). One 
offering associated with Moctezuma is the live burial of a sacri- 
ficial fowl (Dow 1975, p. 68; 1974, p. 97). 

Another spirit associated with the earth is Maka Me (Sacred 
Lady). According to Dow (1974, p. 97), the spirit is identified 
with the Virgin Mary and generalized fertility, and it may thus 
be equivalent to the Nahua Tonantsi. Living in sacred caves 
and obviously related to Maka Me are the spirits of the seeds 
(Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 126). These spirits control crop growth 
and are arranged in a loosely structured hierarchy, with the 
Spirit of Corn ranked first (Fitl 1975, p. 106; Dow 1982, p. 
645; Christensen 1963, pp. 365-66). Other spirits connected 
with the earth include the Spirit of the Field, which is associated 
with the growing crops (Christensen 1952, p. 267; 1963, p. 
364; 1971, p. 29); the Spirit of the House, which may be con- 
nected to the Hearth Spirit of the celestial realm (Christensen 
1952, p. 267; 1963, p. 364; 1971, p. 31); Ma Yoho Nija (Two- 
Shrine), who lives in a cave and sends rain (Sandstrom 1981, 
pp. 5 8 f f . ; Galinier 1976c, pp. 169-70); Yogi, Nyogi, or Bo Yneti 
(Antiguos or Ancient Ones), terms that are applied to major 
non-Christian spirits but which also apply to small, prehistoric 
figurines that represent the lesser spirits (Dow 1974, p. 99; 

1975, p. 67; Galinier 1976c, p. 162); and Senor del Monte, 


the Lord of the Mountain and his bird messengers. 

The Otomis also share with many other Indian groups in 
Middle America the belief that each person has an animal 
companion. Called rogi in Otomi, the animal and its human 
partner are believed to have identical destinies; whatever hap- 
pens to one will also befall the other. This belief is called 
tonalism, a term derived from the Nahuatl word notorial (refer 
to chapter 4). Most humans are unable to identify their own 
rogi, even if they should catch a glimpse of it in the forest. 
Ritual specialists, however, are able to recognize and even con- 
trol their animal companions. The cougar, jaguar, and eagle 
are typical companion spirits of shamans, while the fox and owl 
are companions of sorcerers. If sorcery is suspected in an ill- 
ness, the shaman will magically send out his rogi to do battle 
with the sorcerer's rogi. In some cases the shaman cuts an image 
he identifies as the patient's rogi from paper and includes it in 
the curing ceremony (Dow 1974, p. 102; 1975, pp. 60ff.; 1982, 
p. 646; see also figure 148). A similar idea has been reported 
among the Nahuas of the region, but apparently it is not found 
among the Tepehuas. 

The Otomis also conduct rituals to placate spirits associated 
with the water realm. The most important of these is Maka 
Xumpo Dehe, the Lady of the Water (Dow 1982, p. 645; 1974, 
p. 98; see Galinier 1976c, p. 165 for an alternate name). This 
spirit is probably the same as the Sirena de la Laguna (Siren 
of the Lake) and the Spirit of the Well, both of which are 
reported from San Pablito. The Lady of the Water controls 
aquatic animals and brings rain and fertility to the fields. It 
is also associated with the seed spirits, although the precise 
connection is unclear (Dow 1974, p. 99). The ritual described 
by Frederick Starr in which a pilgrimage was made to a sacred 
lake apparently was held to placate the Lady of the Water 
(see chapter 1). This spirit is related to Maha The, the Sirena 
Mala (Wicked Siren) who controls the spirits (zaki) of people 
who suffered unfortunate, water-related deaths. The Sirena 
Mala demands offerings in return for withholding the ven- 
geance of these disease-causing spirits (see figure 68). Another 


spirit apparently associated with both the good and bad aspects 
of the water is Santa Rosa (Sacred Rose), which is synonymous 
in the region with marijuana (Knab 1979b, pp. 224ff.; Galinier 
1976c, p. 169; see figure 153). Water spirits are often impli- 
cated in curing rituals since they can both capture people's 
souls and send out disease-causing spirits. 

In the underworld the zaki of people who die natural deaths 
live alongside a series of malevolent spirits of somewhat higher 
rank called the jews (judios). For the most part, people who die 
peacefully and naturally pose no threat to the living if they are 
given their due compensation during Todos Santos. Those who 
die unnatural deaths, for example by being murdered, are 
doomed to wander about the earth like rabid animals, wreaking 
vengeance upon the living. The unfortunates are called los 
aires (the airs), and they are among the primary causes of 
disease (Dow 1974, pp. 100-101; 1982, p. 646). The appellation 
"jew" is obviously a legacy of the nearly five centuries of teaching 
by Christian missionaries who portrayed historic Jews as evil 
beings. The Indians are clearly unaware that there are con- 
temporary people who call themselves Jews. For this reason we 
write the Otomi term for these spirits in lower case. The jews 
are sometimes labeled diablos (devils), and at other times they 
are called ma/os aires (bad airs) (Fitl 1975, p. 118; Lenz 1973 
[1948], p. 122). More will be said about the nature of these 
spirits in the section immediately following. 

The Otomi pantheon is complex and difficult to classify. 
The problem is exacerbated by the incomplete and scattered 
nature of the ethnographic reports available. Table 5 sum- 
marizes the information presented here and, as previously men- 
tioned, is largely based on data from San Pablito. The list of 
spirits has an Otomi stamp, but it is difficult to overlook the 
remarkable similarity to the Nahua pantheon (summarized in 
table 2). Specific correspondences between the two religious sys- 
tems will be discussed in the concluding chapter. Examination 
of Otomi paper images reveals additional similarities between 
these groups. 


table 5. The Otomi Pantheon 

Realms of the Universe and Associated Spirits 
(Predominantly from San Pab/ito) 


Maka Hyadi (Sun, Jesus); also 

Dios de Antigua (Ancient God) 

Oja (Christian God) 
Maka Xita Sibi (Grandfather Fire); also 

Dios de Tequil (Hearth God) 
Zidahmu (Catholic saints) 


Hmuho'i (Queen of the Good Earth); also 

Madre de la Tierra (Earth Mother) 
Maka Hai (devouring Earth, Moctezuma); also 

Tierra Sagrada (Sacred Earth) 
Maka Me (Sacred Lady) 

Spirit of the Field 
Spirit of the House 
Ma Yoho Nija (Two-Shrine) 
Mu Xandohu (Lord of the Mountain) 
Yogi (Ancient Ones) 
Rogi (companion spirits of human beings) 

(Underworld) According to San Pablito Otomi myth the jews cur- 
rently live in the underworld, although it is clear that some 
originated in other realms 

Judios (devils, ma/os aires) 

Mu Ximhai (Queen of the Bad Earth) (associated with the earth) 

Ra Ze'mi Nge Ra Nitu (President of Hell) 

Ra Zitu (Devil or Lord Devil) 

Ra Hai Nge Ra Juda (Lord Jew or Jew Person) 

Mu Xui (Lord of the Night) 

Mu Huei (Lord of Lightning) 

Mu Ngani (Lord of Thunder) 


table 5. Continued 

Ra Mantezoma (Montezuma) (associated with the earth) 
Maha The (Water Lady or Wicked Siren) ( associated with the 

Mu Behkuni (Lord Rainbow or Rainbow) 
Ra Puni (Nagual or Lord Nagual) 
Ra Nedani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na (Bull Snout 

that Does Not Respect [Parents]) 
Ra Nefani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na (Horse Snout 

that Does Not Respect [Parents]) 
Ya Yagi (Lightning Bolts or Lord of Lightning Bolts) 
Zaki (Life-force, Spirits of the dead) 


Maka Xumpo Dehe (Lady of the Water); also 

Sirena de la Laguna (Siren of the Lake) 

Spirit of the Well 
Santa Rosa (Marijuana) 
Zaki (Life-force, Spirits of the dead) 


Disease among the Otomis is attributed to many different causes 
(see Sandstrom 1981, pp. llff.), the most common of which 
is attack by malevolent spirits. People may be attacked by 
the aires, spirits of people who died unnatural deaths, or by 
the class of spirits called judios. The judios, in fact, are even called 
espiritus de ataque, " attack spirits," and they are believed to 
cause a category of illness called " attack diseases" (ataques) 
(Sandstrom 1981, p. 26). The precise status of the judios relative 
to the aires is not clear. Dow (1982, p. 646) indicates that the 
judios lead the aires, while Lenz (1973 [1948], p. 122) implies that 
at least some judios are the aires themselves. In fact, several of 
the judios are the spirits of people who died unnatural deaths 
(see figures 69, 71, and 72). Other judios, however, appear 
actually to lead or control aires (see figures 61, 64, 65, and 67). 
One judio, called Lord Nagual (figure 70), stands out from the 
rest since it is considered to be a human sorcerer transformed 



into an animal or, alternatively, the rogi of a sorcerer (Dow, 
personal communication). 

The diversity of the judios can be explained if it is kept in 
mind that the category in which they are included is the crea- 
tion of a single shaman, Santos Garcia. He seems to have taken 
traditional spirits from the Otomi pantheon and grouped them 
according to their malevolent attributes. He called this category 
Senores de los Judios (Lords That Are Jews), and his innovation 
has been carried on by his son and other shamans in San 
Pablito. His manner of portraying the judios also appears to be 
highly innovative since they have features not found in any other 
of the paper cuttings from the region. There are fourteen 
malevolent judios in a complete set. They are reproduced in 
figures 60-73. Like the ejecatl among the Nahuas, each indi- 
vidual spirit has its own story and symbolic representation. 
In the case of the judios, however, the conceptions are par- 
ticularly elaborate and detailed. 

Figure 60 

Mu Ximhai, Reina de la Tierra Mala, 

Queen of the Bad Earth 
Bark paper 
21X 14.5 cm 

This dangerous, disease-causing spirit is surrounded by four 
serpents who are her spirit helpers. Her sister is the beneficent 
Madre Tierra, Earth Mother, who is married to the powerful 
Otomi deity Dios de Antigua, Ancient God. Jealousy over her 
sister's marriage has caused the Queen of the Bad Earth to vent 
her rage on human beings. It has been suggested that this spirit 
is a modern Otomi version of the classical Aztec deity Coatlicue 
(She of the Serpent Skirts), who was associated with the earth 
(Fitl 1975, p. 143; Dow 1982, p. 645; Kaupp 1975, p. 189). 



Figure 61 

Ra Ze'mi Nge Ra Nitu, Presidente 

del Infierno, President of Hell 
Bark paper 
21 X 14.5 cm 

The spirit portrayed in figure 61 is the leader of all the harmful 
and dangerous spirits who inhabit the underworld. As such it 
is the most powerful among them and is distinguished from the 
others by its wings. In addition, the spirit is cut with a single 
horn protruding from the forehead, a hideous beaklike mouth, 
and pointed tongue. The tail signifies the animallike nature of 
the President of Hell. Lord Devil, Senor de Judio, and Lord 
of the Night are the spirit's most important assistants (Fitl 
1975, p. 134; Sandstrom 1981, p. 34; Kaupp 1975, p. 190). 

Figure 62 

Ra Zitu (Devil), Senor Diablo, 

Lord Devil 
Bark paper 
21 X 15.5 cm 

This figure is the companion of Senor de Judio (figure 63) and 
is portrayed with horns above the nose, a tail, and a machete 
in each hand. Lord Devil, along with his companions, searches 
out people who like to fight. Should death result from a fight, 
Lord Devil dines on the flesh of the victim. His sharply pointed 



tongue encourages people who like to fight to destroy each 
other (Fitl 1975, p. 140; Kaupp 1975, p. 191; Dow 1975, p. 
62;Sandstrom 1981, p. 34). 

Figure 63 

Ra Hai Nge Ra Juda (Jew Person). 

Senor de Judio, Lord Jew 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 

Lord Jew accompanies Lord Devil (figure 62) in his quest for 
people who are fighting. This spirit is particularly happy if the 
row involves knives or machetes because of the increased pos- 
sibility of death. When there is a death, Lord Jew drinks the 
blood of the victim. He is portrayed with a bald head, an up- 
turned pointed nose, a goatee, a tail, and a machete. His stomach 
is distended by numerous grisly feasts (Fitl 1975, p. 139; Kaupp 
1975, p. 189 [calls this spirit Judas]; Sandstrom 1981, pp. 34-35). 

Figure 64 

Mu Xui, Senor de la Noche, 

Lord of the Night 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 15 cm 

This frightening figure guards the doorway to the underworld 
where the malevolent spirits live. Between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 



a.m. he discharges these spirits to wander over the earth in 
search of victims. The harmful nature of the Lord of the Night 
is indicated by pointed teeth, a tongue, and the beard. The 
tail, the heavy boots he wears, and the machete attached to 
the wrists give further proof of his dangerous character (see 
color plate 12) (Fitl 1975, p. 144; Kaupp 1975, p. 190; Dow 
1982, p. 646; Sandstrom 1981, p. 36). 

Figure 65 

Mu Huei, Senor de Relampago, 

Lord of Lightning 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 15 cm 

The tail and fingertips of this figure symbolize lightning bolts, 
and the protrusions from each side represent thunderclaps. This 
dangerous spirit is the companion of the Lord of Thunder 
(figure 66), which is why thunder and lightning always ac- 
company each other. The Lord of Lightning has a bet with the 
Lord of Thunder that the latter can not catch up with him. 
Should he be caught, the Lord of Lightning will destroy all 
of the people on earth. This wager explains why a lightning 
flash always precedes a thunderclap. When not playing deadly 
games, this spirit lights the way for other malevolent spirits 
(Fitl 1975, p. 131; Kaupp 1975, p. 191; Dow 1975, p. 62; 
Sandstrom 1981, p. 37). 

Figure 66 

Mu Ngani, Serior de Trueno, 

Lord of Thunder 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 14.5 cm 

Companion to the Lord of Lightning (figure 65) and the Lord 
of Lightning Bolts (figure 73), this spirit is portrayed surrounded 
by ball-like thunderclaps. Even the fingertips, the three-pronged 
crown, and the end of the nose are rounded as a symbolic 
device to represent thunder. The Lord of Thunder chases the 
Lord of Lightning, trying to catch him and win their bet. 
If he succeeds, human beings will be destroyed. The spirit 
scares people with his booming voice (Fitl 1975, p. 133; Kaupp 
1975, p. 191; Dow 1975, p. 62; 1982, p. 646; Lenz 1973 
[1948], p. 126; Sandstrom 1981, p. 37). 

Figure 67 

Ra Mantezoma, Moctezuma, Montezuma 

Bark paper 

21.5 X 14.5 cm 

The spirit in figure 67 may derive from the historical figure 
of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, one of the last Aztec emperors. 
While emperor, he conquered many surrounding Indian groups, 
including several in the Huasteca region (see chapter 3). The 


historical person may have symbolically entered the Otomi 
religious system as a dangerous spirit. Portrayed as bald and 
carrying a machete, Moctezuma commands all of the diseases 
conveyed by the Wicked Siren (figure 68) and Rainbow (figure 
69). This spirit lives underground and is closely associated with 
the earth in one of its dangerous, devouring aspects. Some- 
times called Maka Hai in Otomi or Santasoma in Spanish, 
this figure is cut by shamans for use in curing and cleansing 
ceremonies (Fitl 1975, pp. 135, 160; Kaupp 1975, p. 186; Dow 
1975, pp. 61-62; Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 122ff.; Sandstrom 
1981, p. 38). 

Figure 68 

Maha The (Water Lady), Sirena Mala, 

Wicked Siren 
Bark paper 
15 X 10.5 cm 

The Wicked Siren lives in the rivers and is responsible for all 
water-related accidents or diseases. She has the habit of knock- 
ing people down when they try to cross rivers or streams, and 
drowning victims are often said to have gotten tangled in her 
bushy tail. She is in league with Thunder (figure 66) and 
Lightning (figure 65) and is believed to consume all of the 
offerings thrown out after a cure. She is portrayed with flipper- 
like hands, an upturned nose, and grossly exaggerated lips, 
tongue, and teeth (Fitl 1975, p. 129; Kaupp 1975, p. 189; 
Sandstrom 1981, p. 41). 

Figure 69 

Mu Behkuni (Lord Rainbow), 

Arco Iris, Rainbow 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 14.5 cm 


This paper cutting represents the spirit of a woman who died 
in childbirth. Angry at having lost her life, she roams about 
inflicting sickness on pregnant women. An Otomi woman ex- 
pecting a child will call a shaman to protect her from attacks 
by Rainbow. The arch over her head contains a crown and oval- 
shaped symbolic thunderclaps, and the small figures on either 
side of the arch are ungrateful, troublesome children, the 
products of a difficult birth. These figures are sometimes in- 
terpreted as bad children who have become Horse Snout 
spirits (see figure 72). Thunderclaps protrude from her sides. 
Shamans are careful to include this spirit in all cures so it will 
not feel neglected and attack birthing women (Fitl 1975, p. 
128; Kaupp 1975, p. 191; Dow 1975, p. 62; 1982, p. 646; Sand- 
strom 1981, p. 39). 

Figure 70 

Ra Puni (Nagual), Senor Nagual, 

Lord Nagual 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10 cm 

Lord Nagual is a flying sorcerer who attacks people walking 



on trails at dusk or at night. It is sometimes called a trans- 
forming sorcerer because of the widespread belief that human 
sorcerers can turn themselves into naguals at will. This danger- 
ous spirit is sent by the President of Hell to suck the blood of a 
newborn infant. To protect their infants, parents hang a pair 
of scissors over the house entrance or place two crossed needles 
over the baby's cradle. When the spirit approaches, it will 
impale itself on the trap and die. Lord Nagual is portrayed with 
wings, an upturned nose, and exaggerated lips, teeth and tongue 
(Fitl 1975, p. 141; Kaupp 1975, pp. 157, 191; Dow 1974, p. 
101; 1982, p. 646; Sandstrom 1981, p. 40). 

Figure 71 

Ra Nedani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na 

(Bull Snout That Does 

Not Respect Parents), 

Trompa de Toro que No Respeta, 

Bull Snout that Does Not Respect 
Bark paper 
15 X 10.5 cm 

The Bull Snout is the spirit of a man who did not show re- 
spect for anyone, particularly his mother and father. His lack 
of respect caused him to die of a terrible disease and his spirit 
to wander about as the Bull Snout. Before dying his nostrils 
enlarged, his tongue stuck out, and his eyes bulged, thus pro- 
ducing this ugly spirit. Difficult children, thieves, and mur- 
derers can also be represented by cutting this figure. The spirit 
is portrayed with an animal's head and four machetes to indi- 
cate the danger it poses to all humans (Fitl 1975, pp. 137, 
150; Christensen 1971, p. 23; Kaupp 1975, p. 192; Sandstrom 
1981, p. 42). 

Figure 72 

Ra Nefani Nge Hin Bi Yo Ra Na 

(Horse Snout That Does 

Not Respect Parents), 

Trompa de Caballo que No Respeta. 

Horse Snout that Does Not Respect 
Bark paper 
21 X 14.5 cm 

The Horse Snout is the spirit of a woman who did not show 
respect to her parents. During her death agony, her tongue 
and eyes stuck out and she took on the appearance of a horse. 
Her spirit wanders around in this form, causing disease and 
death. The spirit is portrayed as a human figure with the head 
of a horse (Fitl 1975, pp. 138, 150; Kaupp 1975, p. 192; Sand- 
strom 1981, p. 43). 

Figure 72 

Ya Yagi (Lightning Bolts), Serior de 
los Rayos, Lord of Lightning Bolts 
Bark paper 

21 X 14.5 cm 

This spirit is related to the Lord of Lightning (figure 65), 
although why the Otomi's have different spirits for lightning 
bolts and lightning is unclear. The harmful nature of the Lord 
of Lightning Bolts is indicated by the goatee, exaggerated 
tongue and teeth, the animal tail, and the boots and machetes. 
It provides light for other bad spirits, and helps Thunder 
(figure 66) bv cutting a course through the skv with its machetes 
(Fitl 1975, p. 132; Kaupp 1975, p. 189; Dow 1982, p. 646). 



Taken as group, the judios represent virtually the gamut of 
antisocial characteristics: jealousy, fighting, and disrespect; 
feasting on human blood and flesh; attacking infants and preg- 
nant women; and delivering disease into the village. The judios 
both manifest and are stimulated by behavior that contradicts 
the norms of Otomi society. In this sense they are remarkably 
like the Nahua ejecatl spirits who pollute an otherwise harmon- 
ious world. Like the ejecatl, they are closely associated with 
spirits of the dead. At night they emerge from the underworld 
(infiemo), loosed upon the earth by the Lord of the Night. 
The curing ritual through which the judios are dispelled is called 
the hokwi or max/, which means "cleansing" or "sweeping 
clean" (Dow, personal communication). In short, they are con- 
ceived of and symbolically manipulated in much the same way 
as the Nahua ejecatl spirits. 

What is remarkable in these figures is the way the shaman 
communicates the dangerous and alien character of the judios. 
Some are symbolically connected to powerful natural phenom- 
ena such as thunder and lightning. Others have animal heads, 
tails, or wings attached to human bodies, thus creating half- 
human monsters. Even more interesting is the way the shaman 
uses frightening interethnic relations to define these dangerous 
spirits. Each figure wears heavy boots associated with the world 
of the mestizo. This is reinforced by the bald heads and the 
goatees, which occur far more commonly among outsiders than 
among the Indians. So that no ambiguity remains in communi- 
cating the threatening nature of these spirits, the shaman por- 
trays them with machetes and grossly exaggerated teeth, tongues, 
and lips. Unlike the ejecatl cutouts, the danger is graphically 
represented here. Perhaps for this reason, the duplication often 
found in Nahua images is absent in the Otomi ones. Also the 
double profile of each figure is probably meant to signify that 
these spirits are ever-watching (compare with figures 75-80, 
the intermediary or messenger spirits). With the exception of 
the lion (figure 148), these are the only specimens we have 
that are cut in profile; all others are en face. The bodies of 
the judios appear front faced, although there is a degree of am- 



biguity in this. Figures 61 and 62 have four legs, and several 
others have two tails, which implies that the bodies are meant 
to be in profile like the heads. (For information on the topic 
of frontality in pre-Hispanic art see Klein 1976, and for a further 
discussion of frontality as it relates to the paper images see 
chapter 7.) 

Unfortunately we do not have sets of disease-causing figures 
cut by other Otomi shamans to compare with the one presented 
here. While it may be premature to generalize about the judios, 
several observations can be made. First, it is interesting to note 
the greater degree to which Christianity has influenced these 
images compared with those cut by the Nahuas. The identity 
of the Devil, Senor de Judio, and the President of Hell un- 
doubtedly came from the Christian tradition. Second, the judios 
are cut from bark paper, which makes the use of color symbolism 
impossible. Even the pattern witnessed in the past of reserving 
dark paper for dangerous spirits and light paper for beneficial 
ones is not followed consistently. Finally, as mentioned earlier, 
the judios have elaborate histories which the shaman recites, 
whereas among the Nahuas only a few words are said about 
each cutting. It is likely that the introduction of Christian 
elements, the indiscriminate use of both light and dark paper, 
and the more elaborate stories told about each paper image 
result from attempts to sell the images to tourists. In sum the 
spirits represented by the paper images are authentically Otomi, 
but the portrayal may have been influenced by the desire to 
make them more comprehensible to potential customers. 


To illustrate how the paper images are used, we include the 
following description of an Otomi curing ritual. The major 
description is provided by Senor Antonio Lopez, an Otomi 
shaman from San Pablito. He and Alfonso Garcia write de- 
scriptions of cures, rain ceremonies, and other rituals in small 
books they make from bark paper and offer for sale in the 
tourist markets. What follows is an exerpted version of a cure 
taken from Lopez's manuscript entitled "La historia de la cura- 


cion antiguo de San Pablito, Pahuatlan, Pue." ("An Account of 
Ancient Curing Practices of San Pablito, Pahuatlan, Puebla"). 
For a complete account of this and another ritual, see Sandstrom 
(1981). Additional information on curing procedures from the 
published works of several ethnographers supplements the fol- 
lowing account (also see Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 1 2 3 f f . for a 
description of another San Pablito curing ceremony). 

Religious Ceremony to Counteract Sorcery 

Lopez begins his account with a statement about one cause of 
disease and the first steps necessary to a successful cure. u The 
people who truly believe in the ancient customs hold a cere- 
mony to counteract diseases caused by sorcery. Such diseases 
are called [spirit] attacks. To treat the disease, one has to 
call a curer (curandero), who will perform a divination." 

The Divination and Preparation 

"The curer goes to ask the Heart of the Mountain which type 
of sorcery is causing the disease. He counters the sorcery by 
making an offering. First he cuts out 24 bark paper beds 
[figures 144-45]. Then he cuts out 24 harmful spirits of people 
who were violently killed either by pistol, machete, or knife 
[figure 146]. Next he cuts out 24 good spirits of people who 
died from fever, vomiting, or dysentery [figure 147]. Finally, 
he cuts out 24 harmful spirits called judios [see figures 60-73]." 

The Cleansing 

Lopez goes on to describe some major features of a cure in 
the village of San Pablito. 

First, the curer lays out some of the beds in a square inside the 
patient's house. Next, he lays out some of the paper images on the 
beds. He sprinkles four drops of aguardiente 'over the paper and lights 
four cigarettes for the judios to smoke. He pricks a live chicken and 
the blood falls on the paper images. Next, he pours out more 
aguardiente to baptize the jews and then he begins to chant. The 


curer then lights four candles to illuminate the way for all the 
jews and other spirits who will be driven from the house. 

Next, the curer makes a small chair-like altar out of wood called 
a tlapexque. He places a candle at each of the four corners of 
the tlapexque and then lays out 12 bark paper beds between them. 
Upon these he lays cutouts of harmful spirits including the jews. 
Then he baptizes the jews with aguardiente, after which he places 
some of them outside of the house. 

Now the curer makes a hoop from a wooden rod [called a 
rueda de ataque, "attack wheel"; see Christensen 1952, p. 266] and 
ties paper cutouts of the jews to it. He instructs the violinist and 
guitarist to begin playing, which they will do until the ceremony 
is completed. Then he hangs the hoop from the roof by a cord. 
As the curer sings [chants] to it, a helper lowers the hoop four 
times to the patient who is lying on the floor. Next, the curer 
cleanses the patient after which the hoop is raised up. This signals 
the end of this part of the ritual. 

Two assistants now roll up the spirit beds and form a bundle. 
This bundle is placed on the tlapexque before the curer takes it and 
throws it into the ravine. Everything causing the patient's illness 
remains in the bundle. Upon leaving the patient's house to dispose 
of the bundle the curer begins to sing and the musicians accompany 
him to the ravine. 

Lopez skips over several important features of the curing 
ritual, perhaps because they seem too obvious to mention. For 
example, a common means by which Otomi shamans divine the 
cause of an illness is to read patterns in copal incense smoke 
(Christensen 1942, p. 114; Fitl 1975, p. 173; Kaupp 1975, pp. 
142-43). Copal smoke for the Otomis, as for the Nahuas, is an 
important sacralizing agent used throughout a ritual (Lannik, 
Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 14). Lopez also neglects to mention 
the food offering that forms part of all curing procedures (Fitl 
1975, p. 173). While he does mention baptizing the jiuf/os with 
aguardiente, he does not indicate that it is drunk by the par- 
ticipants during the cure (Spranz 1961, p. 54) nor that it is 
sprayed from the mouth of the shaman over the paper images 
at the four corners of the home (Fitl 1975, p. 173). The shaman 
also dances and jumps over the display of paper images (Chris- 


tensen 1942, p. 114; 1963, p. 364; 1971, p. 28; Fitl 1975, p. 
173; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 14). In addition, the 
bundle of paper images, offerings, and adornments is rubbed 
over the patient and taken around the house to absorb the 
bad spirits (Christensen 1942, p. 114; Fitl 1975, pp. 173, 176). 
Finally, Lopez does not mention the thorny twig, which is a 
common offering to the judios (Kaupp 1975, p. 147; Fitl 1975, p. 

Ceremony to the Lord of the Mountain 

This ritual is usually part of a major cure, although it can 
also be held independently. The ceremony is addressed to the 
Lord of the Mountain (figure 74), the Lord of the Tree, and 
the Queen of the [Good?] Earth, all of whom help people who 
make offerings to them. The curer must first divine a good day 
for the offering. The patient provides the bark paper, and the 
curer cuts the figures four days before the ritual. On the day 
of the ritual, the curer goes into the forest and makes two 
small altars. 

In his manuscript Lopez does not describe the ritual itself, 
but he does list the items required: twenty-four bark paper 
beds (like figure 145); two Little Birds of the Mountain (figure 
76); twenty-four shirts of the Lord of the Tree; Napkins of the 
Mountain (figures 140-41); tlapanco flowers; two Spirits of the 
Water; one Spirit of the Patient (figure 149); twenty-four bunches 
of marigolds (cempoalxochitl); eight lions (figure 148); tortillas; 
cornmeal figures of marbles (?), stars, and eagles; four candles; 
incense; two chicken eggs; and a cornmeal figure of a turkey. 

The following brief description of the Ceremony to the Lord 
of the Mountain is provided by Fitl. 

[The shaman] leaves the village with the "mufiecos" and the 
offerings to visit the place of sacrifice for the "Lord of the Moun- 
tain" in the forest. Once there he builds a "tlapexque" [from the 
Nahuatl tepextli, "bed"] over which he spreads the Napkin of the 
Mountain. He places the offerings, the "camas," the "feones" and 
the figure "hombre" [Spirit of the Patient] on the "Napkin." He 
stretches a string between the trees around the altar and fastens 
the "Little Birds of the Mountain" to it. The [Little Birds] have 


the task to keep all the "aires" and evil spirits from the place of 
sacrifice. Then [the shaman] reaches for the [live] chickens and 
cuts their throats and allows the blood to drip on the figures and 
the offerings. He implores the "Lord of the Mountain" to protect 
the [patient] in his life and to accept the offerings as consideration. 
This ends the ritual and [the shaman] returns to the village (1975, 
p. 179). 

Other ethnographers report that this ritual also includes a trip 
to the top of the mountain, where additional offerings are made 
to the Lord of the Mountain (Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, 
p. 15; Christensen 1971, p. 34). 

Lopez explains that the Lord of the Mountain is a "true 
god" who guards the spirits of all people. He particularly pro- 
tects humans from hunger and from falling. He also has mes- 
sengers who help people and who watch over babies from the 
time they are born. If the proper offerings are not made, how- 
ever, the Lord of the Mountain will become angry and will 
send diseases via his messengers. A curer must then be con- 
sulted in order to placate him. 

Ceremony to the Earth Mother 

Another ritual sequence Lopez refers to in conjunction with a 
curing is the ceremony to the Earth Mother. "The ceremony 
for making offerings to the Earth Mother begins with a Catholic 
prayer, Tn the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the 
Holy Spirit, so said my Lord Jesus Christ. Pardon us here on 
earth for we are about to offer a little cornmeal and bark paper 
to the Earth Mother."' 

According to Lopez, offerings to the Earth Mother include 
twenty-four beds, a little chocolate atole, some cacao atole with 
raw sugar, two roasted chickens, a few sweets, cooked eggs, and 
peanut mole. Lopez states, u The shaman paints the spirit bed 
with turkey blood for the Earth Mother. She will deliver some 
of it to the Ancient Lord who sends the rain for the crops. 
A long time ago the Ancient Lord and Earth Mother were 
rulers but that was before the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 
who usurped their power [/o quito el poder\" 



Lopez continues, "Thus the Lord Jesus Christ now rules 
all of the earth and commands everything. But, to cure disease, 
the curer adorns the altars of the Earth Mother and the Ancient 
Lord, because it is the Earth Mother who still commands dis- 
ease. The shaman does it also to remember the old gods who 
supported us for all the times past, for so many years." 

Interestingly, Fitl includes an account from Alfonso Garcia 
of the ceremony to the Earth Mother that is almost identical 
to Lopez's description (1975, pp. 198-99). A prominent part 
of the description she records also includes reference to Chris- 
tian elements and to the power of the Earth Mother to send 
disease if she is neglected. According to Fitl's information, this 
ritual is seldom practiced any longer. 

Unfortunately no detailed description and analysis of a curing 
ritual from San Pablito has been published. There are several 
general descriptions, however, and it is from these that we have 
supplemented the account of Antonio Lopez. We wanted to 
include a ritual from San Pablito because it was here that Starr 
first saw the paper images and because most of the images in- 
cluded in this chapter are from the village. Although Lopez 
appears to present three separate rituals, it is clear that they 
go together, just as the Nahua ritual described earlier is com- 
posed of two sequences. Here, just as among the Nahuas, a 
cleansing episode precedes the offering made to beneficial spirits. 

Paper Images and the Ritual 

In addition to similarities in the structure of the Otomi and 
Nahua rituals described, the Otomis also share with the Nahuas 
the list of basic ritual components: paper images are the focus 
of ritual activity; the images are arranged on altars that are set 
up as appropriate places for the spirits; offerings are communi- 
cated to the spirits by manipulating the appropriate paper images 
and through chanting by the shaman; and, finally, spirits are 
controlled using the strategy of obligating them through offer- 
ings. The basic technique for removing the judios can be re- 
duced to three steps: first, the paper images are arranged on the 



altar; second, offerings are dedicated to them; and third, the 
images are physically removed. 

While the fundamental structures and elements of Otomi and 
Nahua rituals are remarkably similar, there are differences be- 
tween the two groups. For one thing, the Otomfs do not ap- 
pear to destroy the paper images of the judios. The images are 
wrapped up in a bundle for cleansing the patient and his sur- 
roundings, and afterwards the shaman simply casts the bundle 
into a ravine. The Nahuas by contrast destroy the images of 
the ejecatl spirits following a curing ceremony. A second dif- 
ference is that the Otomfs apparently do not have witness spirits 
per se, but rather make offerings directly to mountain spirits. 
These are the Lord of the Mountain and his messengers. Nahua 
shamans make offerings to guardian ancestors (Itecu) via witness 
spirits who act as intermediaries. The Otomis, in contrast, do 
not seem to regard ancestors as guardian spirits, and, in addition, 
they address the Lord of the Tree and the Queen of the [Good] 
Earth in curing rituals, neither of whom is part of the Nahua 
curing ritual. Finally, the Otomi shaman uses the "attack wheel" 
and small images made from cornmeal, ritual features that are 
not shared by the Nahuas. 

Many of these apparent differences, however, probably are 
the result of innovations of individual shamans and, thus, do 
not indicate a radical departure from a shared world view. It is 
likely that spirits addressed by the Otomis are found among 
Nahuas but by different names, even in Spanish. Both the 
Otomis and the Nahuas look to hill spirits as protectors, and 
the rituals of both groups suggest a close association between 
disease-causing spirits and the earth. The Nahua shaman pours 
offerings into a hole dedicated to the earth, and the Otomi 
describes an offering to the Earth Mother. Although the judios 
and the ejecatl spirits are not precisely equivalent, both are 
associated with, or are actual spirits of, the dead. The lack 
of detail in Lopez's description obscures other similarities with 
the Nahuas. For example, the use of the marigold hoop to 
cleanse patients is a technique used by Otomi shamans. The 
ritual described in chapter 2, led by an Otomi, includes this 


One interesting feature of Lopez's description is the way he 
writes about the influence of Christianity in Otomi religion. 
Lopez sees the coming of Christianity as a supplanting of the 
traditional deities by Jesus Christ. The old spirits are less 
powerful now, but they still should be propitiated. Undoubt- 
edly the missionaries told the Indians that the old gods are 
devils, and so spirits like the Earth Mother in this ritual are 
reduced to controlling disease-causing spirits of the dead. It is 
worth repeating here that despite the seemingly greater impact 
of Christianity upon the Otomis, they have a reputation in the 
whole region for being masters of shamanic techniques. 

Table 6 contains additional Otomi rituals. Just as among the 
Nahuas, a complete listing is impossible because the shamans 
continually create new rituals and add innovations to older 
ones. The table suggests the range of rituals among the Otomis 
and indicates the paper images associated with each one. 

table 6. Major Otomi Rituals 

Maxi or Hokwi: Curing/cleansing ritual of variable complexity and 
duration. Paper i mages: judios, mountain spirits, beds, large cutouts 
of guardians, companion spirits, spirit of the patient, Otomi man 
and woman (Christensen 1942, pp. 114ff.; 1952, pp. 264ff.; Dow 
1982, pp. 636ff.; Fitl 1975, pp. 172-73, 179-81; Lenz 1973 [1948], 
pp. 132ff.; Sandstrom 1981, pp. 25ff.). 

Ofrenda Completa: Ritual held to cure soul loss. Paper images: judios, 
beds, good spirits of the dead (Otomi man and woman), bad spirits 
of the dead (Otomi man and woman), attack wheel figures (Chris- 
tensen 1952, p. 266; Fitl 1975, pp. 173-76). 

Su Dia del Monte: Rite to regain spirit of the patient from Lord of the 
Mountain. Paper images: mountain spirits, beds, spirit of the lion, 
Otomi man (Christensen 1952, p. 266; Fitl 1975, pp. 177-78; 
Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, pp. 15ff.). 

Costumbre al Cerro: Offering to hill spirits to prevent disease. Paper 
images: spirit of the hill (Christensen 1942, p. 116; 1971, p. 34; 
Fitl 1975, pp. 181-82; Kaupp 1975, p. 188). 

Costumbre para la Milpa: Offering to field spirit to increase crop 
yields. Paper images: spirit of the field (Christensen 1942, pp. 
114ff.; 1971, p. 29; Fitl 1975, p. 181). 


table 6. Continued 

Costumbre para las Semillas: Ritual for seeds to insure bountiful 
harvests. Paper images: seed figures, mountain spirits, preliminary 
cleansing using figures of malos aires (Christensen 1942, pp. 1 17ff.; 
1963, pp. 365ff.; 1971, pp. 42ff.; Fitl 1975, 190-94; Kaupp 1975, 
p. 188; Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 126ff., 130). 

Costumbre a Moctezuma: Offering to Moctezuma in payment for 
planting fields. Paper images: Moctezuma (Fitl 1975, pp. 182-84; 
Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 16; Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 

Costumbre al Espiritu del Agua: Offerings are cast into the lake home 
of Maka Xumpo Dehe to control rain. Paper images: figure of a 
woman, mountain spirits, altar mats (Flower of Heaven, Gate of 
Heaven?) (Christensen 1942, pp. 116ff.; 1963, p. 365; 1971, pp. 
35ff.; Fitl 1975, pp. 195-97; Sandstrom 1981, pp. 54ff.). 

Costumbre para la Fuente: Offering to remove harmful spirits from 
the village water supply. Paper images: figure of a man, mountain 
spirits, altar mats (Flower of Heaven, Gate of Heaven?) (Christen- 
sen 1942, p. 115; 1971, pp. 34ff.; Fitl 1975, pp. 194-95). 

Pagar Algo: Offering to a variety of spirits as compensation for 
human offenses. Paper images: harmful spirits (malos aires?), figures 
from white paper (witnesses?) (Fitl 1975, pp. 185-86; Kaupp 1975, 
p. 188; Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 127ff.). 

Ofrenda de la Tierra: offering to the earth as compensation for human 
disturbances. Paper images: beds, other unidentified figures (Fitl 
1975, pp. 198-99; Galinier 1976c, p. 169; Kaupp 1975, p. 188; 
Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 127ff.). 

Ofrenda de Dios de Tequil: Offering to guardian hearth spirit to 
protect household members. Paper images: no information (Fitl 
1975, p. 198). 

Costumbre para la Casa: Ritual for a newly built house to placate 
its spirit. Paper images: beds, Otomi man (Christensen 1942, pp. 
115ff.; 1963, pp. 364ff.; 1971, pp. 31ff.; Fitl 1975, pp. 188-89; 
Kaupp 1975, p. 188). 

Ofrenda para Enamorarse: Love magic rite. Paper images: spirits of 
lovers (Christensen 1963, p. 365; 1971, pp. 37-38;. Fitl 1975, pp. 
208-209; Kaupp 1975, p. 188; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 129). 



table 6. Continued 

Todos Santos: Ceremony to feed the souls of ancestors; syncretized 

with All Souls. Paper images: no information. 
Navidad: Christmas. Paper images: no information (Christensen 1942, 

pp. 1 2 1 f f . ; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 134). 
Ano Nuevo: New Year's. Paper images: no information (Christensen 

1942, p. 121). 
Carnaval: Dancers in various guises perform throughout the village, 

the Devil prominent among them; syncretized with the Christian 

celebration of Carnival. Paper images: no information (Boiles 1971; 

Williams Garcia 1960). 
Rentgo Ojo: Called the "people's feast," this ritual is held following 

Easter. Paper images: no information (Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 134ff.). 
Costumbre al Senor del Monte: Offering to the mountain spirit upon 

the birth of a child. Paper images: mountain spirits, Otomi man, 

spirit of the lion, beds, altar mats (Napkin of the Mountain) (Fitl 

1975, pp. 178-79). 
Limpia a la Partera: Cleansing performed by a midwife at the birth 

of a child. Paper images: no information (Kaupp 1975, p. 188). 
Costumbre para Difunto: Funeral rite to prevent return of the dead 

person's spirit. Paper images: Otomi man, spirit of the lion, other 

unidentified figures (Christensen 1942, pp. 119ff.; 1963, p. 365; 

1971, pp. 36ff.; Fitl 1975, pp. 186-87; Kaupp 1975, p. 188; Lenz 

1973 [1948], 131ff.). 


In the ritual just described, an important role was played by 
a series of spirits called Seriores del Monte or Lords of the 
Mountain. Chief among these is Mu Xandohu, Lord of the 
Mountain, also called Dohandoho, Heart of the World (Dow 
1974, p. 98; 1982, p. 645). This protector spirit is assisted 
by seven helper spirits which take the form of multiheaded 
birds (figures 75-80). Birds have been used to represent 
messenger spirits among Indians in Middle America since pre- 
Columbian times (Hunt 1977, pp. 57ff.). These bird spirits 
watch over people and report back to the Lord of the Mountain. 
The multiple heads symbolize watchfulness since they are able 
to look in more than one direction at once. The little birds 



tell their master if someone is ill so he can intervene and help 
in the cure. However, the little birds also report back if some- 
one has forgotten to give the master his due. In this case the 
Lord of the Mountain becomes angry and aggressive. Following 
is a complete set of paper images of mountain spirits used in 
San Pablito. 

Figure 74 

Mu Xandohu, Senor del Monte, 

Lord of the Mountain 
Bark paper 
21.5 X 16 cm 

According to Otomf informants, this was one of the most 
powerful spirits before the coming of Jesus Christ. Today he 
guards over people, ensures that there is no hunger, and pre- 
vents injuries from falls. Because of his role as protector, he 
is often cut in conjunction with curing rituals. He sends out 
messengers to obtain information about people who neglect 
him and to give warning to people when something is about 
to happen. The spirit lives on the mountain and moves on the 
air when he travels. Because of his association with the air 
some ethnographers classify him as an attack spirit, although 
his function is sufficiently different to warrant a separate cate- 
gory. While generally viewed as a beneficent protector, the Lord 
of the Mountain will nevertheless send disease to people, par- 
ticularly a newborn infant, if he feels neglected by the villagers. 
The spirit is portrayed with a rainbow, and the branches and 
leaves of the forest form a canopy over his head. Circular cuts 
over the head represent thunder. Two animal spirit helpers are 
cut by his legs, and the two infants emerging from his arms 


symbolize his role as protector. These infants are sometimes 
interpreted as the weakened spirits of sick people that he guards 
over. Offerings are made to the Lord of the Mountain in a 
special place in the forest visited often by shamans (Fitl 1975, 
pp. 119ff.; Christensen 1952, p. 266; 1971, p. 34; Dow 1974, 
p. 98; 1975, p. 62; 1982, p. 645; Lenz 1973 [1948], preceding 
p. 97; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 15; Kaupp 1975, p. 
190; Spranz 1969, p. 66; Sandstrom 1981, pp. 44ff.). 

Figure 75 

Nxuni Nge Goho Ra Hya, Aguila 
de Cuatro Cabezas, 
Eagle with Four Heads 

Bark paper 

20.5 X 14 cm 

This paper image is cut by Otomi shamans to represent a power- 
ful guardian spirit who acts as a messenger for the Lord of the 
Mountain (figure 74). It is portrayed as a single bird's body 
with four heads attached. The four heads are able to look in all 
directions at once for approaching danger and to spot people 
who have failed to make offerings to the Lord of the Mountain. 
The cutout mav be hung in people's houses as a protection 
against trouble '(Fitl 1975, p. 122; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 126; 
Kaupp 1975, p. 191). 

Figure 76 

Zinzu Nge Ra Mu Xandohu 

(Bird of the Mountain Lord). 

Pajarito del Monte, 

Little Bird of the Mountain 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 11 cm 

The spirit portrayed here is one of the messengers associated 
with the Lord of the Mountain. Little Bird of the Mountain 
wards off bad spirits from wherever it is situated. It also has 
the ability to prevent fights from occurring. People in San 
Pablito often hang this image in their homes as protection 
against disease-causing judios and other dangerous spirits. Cut 
with two heads to symbolize watchfulness, it wears a crown of 
two small bird-companion spirits (Fitl 1975, p. 124; Kaupp 
1975, pp. 189-90; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 15; 
Christensen 1952, p. 266; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 130). 

Figure 11 

Zinzu Nge Ra Pase (Bird of the 
Monkey), Pajarito de Mono, 
Little Bird of the Monkey 

Bark paper 

15.5 X 10.5 cm 

The Little Bird of the Monkey is the protector of the sick 
and is cut by shamans as part of curing procedures. It is por- 
trayed as a two-headed bird accompanied by two smaller birds 
and by two monkeylike figures that are interpreted as the weak- 



ened spirits of small children. The small birds carry the spirits 
of sick people to the Lord of the Mountain to be cured. Often 
the shaman will leave a paper image of this spirit along with 
food offerings on top of a sacred mountain to aid in the curing 
process (Fitl 1975, p. 125; Kaupp 1975, p. 191). 

Figure 78 

Zinzu Nge Ra Zo (Bird of the Star), 

Pajarito de Estrella, 

Little Bird of the Star 

Bark paper 
15 X 10.5 cm 

% 1^ 


Another messenger from the Lord of the Mountain, this two- 
headed bird spirit is cut with a crown of stars. The Otomis 
say that the spirit is a link between the heavens and earth. 
Its head is among the stars and its tail connects to humans 
down below. The Little Bird of the Star announces things that 
are about to happen and is often a harbinger of misfortune 
(Fitl 1975, p. 126; Kaupp 1975, p. 190). 

Figure 79 

Zinzu Nge Ra Nxuni (Bird of the Eagle), 

Pajarito de Aguila, 

Little Bird of the Eagle 
Bark paper 
14.5X 10.5 cm 

The Little Bird of the Eagle reports to the Lord of the Moun- 


tain when someone is sick. Provided the proper food offerings 
are made, it may actually take the spirit of the patient back 
to the master to plead on its behalf. Sometimes this spirit can 
effect a cure by causing the patient to vomit up his sickness; 
vomiting is taken as a sign that the patient's spirit has been 
taken to the Lord of the Mountain. The spirit is portrayed 
as a two-headed bird with small eagles cut above its head. 
These smaller birds help the Little Bird of the Eagle by watch- 
ing for people who are sick. The image is cut as part of an 
offering to the Lord of the Mountain (Fitl 1975, p. 127; Kaupp 
1975, p. 190). 

Figure 80 

Pajarito de Dos Cabezas, Little 

Bird with Two Heads 
Bark paper 
20 X 14 cm 

The Little Bird with Two Heads is yet another messenger and 
helper of the Lord of the Mountain. Two heads help this spirit 
keep track of events in both the celestial and earthly realms. 
This cutting often adorns Otomi religious altars and is some- 
times referred to as the Guardian of the Sky (Fitl 1975, p. 
123; Christensen 1942, p. 115; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 125). 

These spirits bear no physical resemblance to the witnesses 
and guardians cut by the Nahuas, and yet they seem remark- 
ably similar in conception. The idea of messengers or inter- 
mediaries between powerful mountain spirits and human beings 
is found in both sets of paper cuttings. The Lord of the Moun- 
tain is portrayed as a barefoot human figure surrounded by 


spirit helpers. Although the Otomis must view this spirit with 
some ambivalence because of its role in causing disease, it is 
still portrayed as a benevolent being which resembles a seed 
spirit. The thunderballs over its head may give a hint about 
its potential danger. The little birds are portrayed in a fairly 
naturalistic style except for the multiple heads. Just as in Nahua 
cuttings, crowns are used to identify the particular spirit. 


Some of the best-known and best-selling paper cuttings of the 
San Pablito Otomis are the images of seed spirits which follow. 
Although the Otomis themselves call these figures dioses or 
u gods," it is clear that they represent the zaki of each crop. 
That they are also called semi/las, "seeds," indicates that they 
represent the potential for fertility and growth of each plant. 
Like their Nahua counterparts, Otomi shamans conduct private 
and public rituals to increase the zaki of the crops and thereby 
improve yields. The images are cut out of bark paper or in- 
dustrially manufactured tissue paper [papel de China). Seed 
spirits are portrayed anthropomorphically in a characteristic 
pose: front faced with hands upraised by the sides of the head. 
Clearly identifiable images of the mature fruit or vegetable, 
with or without accompanying leaves, protrude from each side 
of the figure and occasionally from the top of the head. In most 
of the images the spirit wears a crown headdress and has roots 
emerging from the bottoms of bare feet. Bark paper images are 
usually single ply; tissue paper images are cut from variously 
colored sheets of paper which are then sewn together in layers. 
In the latter case, the top sheet, usually a light green or blue, 
is cut to reveal the differently colored paper underneath. Thus 
the crown of the figure or the fruits which project from the 
sides show as different colors from the body. 

As mentioned previously, the San Pablito Otomis are un- 
usual in that they cut a different image for each crop grown. 
Both the Nahuas and Tepehuas cut images of only a few crops, 
such as maize or chiles. The proliferation of seed images in San 
Pablito may be linked to the demands of the tourist market. 


Like the Nahuas, the Otomfs keep a permanent collection of 
seed images sealed in a wooden cabinet that is kept on the 
altar of a special shrine (Christensen 1963, p. 366; Lenz 1973 
[1948], p. 130; Sandstrom 1981, p. 73; Galinier 1976c, p. 161). 
The figures are dressed in miniature clothes with tiny hats, 
necklaces, earrings, combs, and other furnishings. The figures 
are removed annually and used in a ceremony dedicated to crop 
increase, after which they are returned to the cabinet (see 
chapter 2). Throughout the year small offerings may be placed 
in front of the cabinet in hopes of further influencing crop 
yield. In some cases paper images of the zakis of domesticated 
animals such as turkeys, chickens, and pigs are cut along with 
the seed spirits. They too are called semillas (seeds). Except for 
information on honeybees (figures 116-18), however, no ethno- 
graphic information is available on how they are used or even 
what they look like (Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 126). 

The seed spirits that follow were all cut in the village of 
San Pablito and have been grouped according to the crop 
represented. Otomi names of the cutouts have been included 
where they are available; otherwise only the Spanish and Eng- 
lish labels are provided. Translation of the Otomi and Spanish 
varietal names has proven extremely difficult because of regional 
variations in folk taxonomy. Whenever there is a doubt about 
the variety of plant portrayed we have simply translated the 
broadest category possible. Thus the Dios de Jitomate Arribeno 
is translated simply as "Spirit of the Tomato,' 1 since "jitomate 
arribeno" or "highland tomato" may not denote the same variety 
of tomato in each village. 

Figures 81-84 are used in crop fertility rituals to represent 
some of the varieties of maize grown by Otomi villagers. The 
Spanish word mazorca, which appears in figures 81 and 84, 
means ear of corn or the female spike of the corn plant. The 
Otomfs sometimes use this word to mean the entire corn plant, 
and so the name Dios de Mazorca has been translated as simply 
Spirit of Maize. 



Figure 81 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Tha, Dios de Mazorca, 

Spirit of Maize 
Bark paper 
20 X 12.5 cm 

Figure 82 

Dios de Maiz Negro, Spirit of 

Black Maize 
Blue with purple ears 
31 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 83 

Dios de Maiz Amarillo, Spirit of 

Yellow Maize 
Blue with yellow ears 
16.5 X 8 cm 

Figure 84 

Dios de Mazorca Amarillo, Spirit 

of Yellow Maize 
Blue with orange ears 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 65) 

Figures 85-89 represent the spirits of some of the varieties 
of beans cultivated by the Otomis. Most villagers can readily 
identify the variety of bean represented by the shape and color 
of the cutout image. 

Figure 85 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Boju, Spirit 

of the Black Bean 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 

Figure 86 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Maju, Spirit 

of the Crawling Bean 
Bark paper 
21 X 15 cm 



Figure 87 

Dios de Frijol de Mata Colorado, 

Spirit of the Red Bush Bean 
Green with red pods 
31.5 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 88 

Dios de Frijol Torito Blanco, 

Spirit of the White Bean 
Green with purple pods 
31.5X11.5 cm 

Figure 89 

Dios de Frijol Delgado, Spirit 

of the String Bean 
Green with purple pods 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 64) 

Figures 90 and 91 are two versions of the Spirit of the Garbanzo 
Bean (chick pea) cut by Otomi shamans. 

Figure 90 

Dios de Garbanzo, Spirit of 

the Garbanzo Bean 
Green with white beans 
Size of original unknown 

Figure 91 

Dios de Garbanzo, Spirit of the 

Garbanzo Bean 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 11 cm 

"^^MsT 7^-/\KT-^ 

Figures 92-97 portray the spirits of several of the many va- 
rities of tomatoes planted by the Otomis. 

Figure 92 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Xitha Temaxi, 

Dios de Tomate, 

Spirit of the Tomato 
Bark paper 
20.5 x 15.5 cm 



Figure 93 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Temaxi, Dios de 

Jitomate, Spirit of the Tomato 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 

Figure 94 

Dios de Jitomate Arribeno, 

Spirit of the Tomato 
Blue with red tomatoes 
31.5 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 95 

Dios de Cuatomate Amarillo, 

Spirit of the Yellow Tomato 
Blue with yellow tomatoes 
31.5 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 96 

Dios de Tomate Grajillo, 

Spirit of the Tomato 
Green with red tomatoes 
Size of original unknown 

Figure 97 

Dios de Jitomate, Spirit of 

the Tomato 
Green with red tomatoes 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 64) 

Figures 98-101 are the spirits of some of the several dozen 
varieties of peppers grown by the Indians. 

Figure 98 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Ngi, Dios de Chile, 

Spirit of Chile 
Bark paper 
20 X 14 cm 



Figure 99 

Dios de Chile Grande, Spirit 

of Large Chile 
Blue with red chiles 
31.5 X 11.5 cm 

6i/\8? Z^f 

Figure 100 

Dios de Chile Colorado, Spirit 

of Red Chile 
Blue with red chiles, leaf tips white 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 64) 

Figure 101 

Dios de Chile de Hoja, 

Spirit of Chile 
Blue with yellow chiles 
25 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 64) 



Some of the varieties of bananas grown by Otomi farmers are 
portrayed in figures 102-105. 

Figure 102 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Muza, Dios de Platano, 

Spirit of the Banana 
Bark paper 
21 X12cm 


Figure 103 

Dios de Platano Chaparro, 

Spirit of the Banana 
Green with yellow bananas 
33 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 104 

Dios de Platano Largo, 

Spirit of the Long Banana 
Green with peach-colored bananas 
16.5 X 8 cm 



Figure 105 

Dios de Platano Amarillo, 

Spirit of the Yellow Banana 
Green with yellow bananas; leaf 

tips above feet are yellow 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 65) 

Sugarcane is an important crop for the Otomis. Figures 106- 
108 represent some of the varieties grown. 

Figure 106 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Yumpo, Dios de 

Cana, Spirit of Sugarcane 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 12 cm 

Figure 107 

Dios de Cana Jalapeno, Spirit 

of Jalapan Sugarcane 
16.5 X 8 cm 



Figure 108 

Dios de Cana Blanca, Spirit 

of White Sugarcane 
Blue with white tips protruding 

from the body 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 65) 

Figures 109 and 1 10 are two of the several varieties of peanuts 
grown by Otomi farmers. 

Figure 109 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Jumhai, Dios de 
Cacahuate, Spirit of the Peanut 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 14 cm 

Figure 110 

Dios de Cacahuate Serrano, Spirit 

of the Mountain Peanut 
Blue with brown peanuts 
32.5X11.5 cm 



Figure 111 is an image of the potato, and figures 112 and 
113 are two different paper images of the Spirit of the Camote 

Figure 111 

Dios de Papa Blanca, Spirit 

of the White Potato 
Green with pink potatoes 
31 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 112 

Dios de Camote Dulce Blanco, Spirit 

of the Sweet White Camote 
Green with pink camotes 
31 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 113 

Dios de Camote, Spirit of 

the Camote 
Bark paper 
23 X 14 cm 




Figures 1 14 and 115 are two representatives of the jicama plant. 

Figure 114 

Ra Muta Nge Ra K'apaxa, Dios 
de Jicama, Spirit of the Jicama 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 14 cm 

Figure 115 

Dios de Jicama, Spirit 

of the Jicama 
Green with white jicamas 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 64) 

Figures 116-18 are different paper images depicting the tropical 
honeybees. Honey is a luxury item produced by many house- 

Figure 116 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Tatha (Spirit of the Bee), 

Dios de Enjambre 

Spirit of the Bee Swarm 
Bark paper 
21 X 13 cm 



Figure 117 

Dios de la Colmena de Enjambre, 

Spirit of the Beehive 
30 X 11.5 cm 

Figure 118 

Dios de Enjambre, 

Spirit of the Bee Swarm 
26 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 65) 

Figures 1 19 and 120 are two versions of the coffee plant cut by 
Otomi ritual specialists. 

Figure 119 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Kafe, Dios de Cafe, 

Spirit of Coffee 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 14.5 cm 



Figure 120 

Dios de Cafe, Spirit of 

Green with red coffee beans 
16.5 X9cm 

Some of the varieties of pineapple grown by the Otomis are 
represented in figures 121-23. 

Figure 121 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Hwata, Dios de Pina, 

Spirit of the Pineapple 
Bark paper 
21 X 14.5 cm 

Figure 122 

Dios de Pina Serrana, Spirit 

of the Mountain Pineapple 
Blue with a brown pineapple crown 
31 X 11.5 cm 



Figure 123 

Dios de Pina, Spirit of the 

Blue with yellow pineapples; 

leaves of the pineapples are red 
26.5 cm tall 
After Spranz (1961, p. 65) 

Figures 124 and 125 are different depictions of the Spirit of 
the Papaya. 

Figure 124 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Papaya, Dios 

de Papaya, Spirit of the Papaya 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 11 cm 

Figure 125 

Dios de Papaya Erial, Spirit 

of the Papaya 
Light blue with peach-colored 

16.5 X 9 cm 



Figure 126 

Dios de Espinoso, Spirit of 

the Thorn Plant (?) 
Bark paper 
21.5 X 16.5 cm 

The following paper cutouts depict the great diversity of fruits 
cultivated by the Otomis. 

Figure 127 

Dios de Naranja, Spirit of 

the Orange 
Bark paper 
21 X 16 cm 

Figure 128 

Dios de Granada Cordelina, 
Spirit of the Pomegranate 
Green with red pomegranates 
Size of original unknown 



Figure 129 (see color plate 13) 
Dios de Uva, Spirit of the Grape 
Bark paper 
33.5 X25cm 

Figure 130 

Dios de Manzana, Spirit of 

the Apple 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 

Figure 131 

Dios de Palma, Spirit of the 

Palm Nut 
Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 



Figure 132 

Dios de Aguacate, Spirit of the 

Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 

Figure 133 

Ra Muta Nge Ra Xamu, Dios de 
Chayote, Spirit of the Chayote 
Bark paper 
20.5X 15 cm 

Figure 134 

Dios de Mango, Spirit of the 

Bark paper 
15.5 X 10.5 cm 



Figure 135 is unusual in that two crops are depicted simul- 
taneously; the meaning of the juxtaposition is not clear. 

Figure 135 

Dios de Platano con Frijoles, 

Spirit of Banana with Beans 

or Seedy Banana? 
Bark paper 
21.5 X 16 cm 

Four major sources of variation determine the styles displayed by 
the seed spirits. The first is the material out of which they are 
cut, either bark paper or tissue paper. Generally speaking, the 
tissue paper figures are larger and taller than those cut from bark 
paper. This is because traditional bark paper is made only in 
smaller sheets. Often, tissue-paper images are somewhat more in- 
tricate in design, which may reflect the greater ease of cutting 
the thinner paper. This is not a rule, however, since some of 
the images cut from bark paper are also quite elaborate. An- 
other impetus for variation is the need for ritual specialists 
to distinguish themselves from their colleagues. A third source 
is the need to portray the sometimes large number of varieties 
of any single crop grown by the villagers. Finally, some of the 
variations, particularly the extremely decorative ones such as 
figures 129 and 130, are clearly influenced in their design by 
considerations of the tourist trade. 


Figures 136-43 are a sample of altar mats cut by shamans in 
San Pablito. The ornate images are cut primarily to make the 
altar a beautiful place for the spirits, but in some cases they are 
also cut to ward off dangerous spirits. These large cutouts often 



depict watchful birds or good Otomi men and women who will 
create an impenetrable barrier to the jiuffos and ma/os aires. 

Figure 136 

Nino del Monte, Child of 
the Mountain; also 
Vigilante, Watchful One 

Bark paper 

41 X 30 cm 

«5» * »:«= <« * »:« 

<$ c "S 8 >2- *l* >l< »I« 

This large paper image is cut by Otomi shamans to prevent 
fights and accidents perpetrated by dangerous spirits. During 
rituals it is hung inside the shrine to prevent violence that 
might flare up as a result of the heavy consumption of aguardiente. 
The central feature is a circle composed of four good Otomi 
men alternating with four good Otomi women. A pair of watch- 
ful birds is cut at each corner (Fitl 1975, p. 161; Lenz 1973 
[1948], p. 131). 

Figure 137 

Nino del Monte, Child of the 

Mountain; also Centinela, 

Bark paper 
41 X30cm 

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♦ 4> ♦ ♦> 

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*W> Ifl&l 0T8TO j^ju 
£09 SO 

09 So 

♦<»<►« -0«0*« *«* © f C-O* «»C 4 

Otomi shamans cut this image to turn back dangerous spirits 
who try to enter a house where a ritual is being held. Unde- 
sirable spirits are sometimes attracted to the music, offerings, 



and activities of a ritual, and they must be prevented from 
spoiling the affair. The top row of figures are good Otomi 
men and the bottom row, good Otomi women. The cutout is 
hung in the doorway of the house so that the good Otomis 
can overpower dangerous spirits and incarcerate them in escape- 
proof caves (Fitl 1975, p. 161; Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 131). 

Figure 138 

Nino del Monte, Child of the Mountain: 
also Flor del Cielo, Flower of Heaven 
Bark paper 
42 X 29 cm 

This cutting is a variation of figures 136 and 137. It consists 
of two circles of good Otomi men who alternate with good 
Otomi women (see color plate 14). The image is placed on the 
altar during rituals to turn away dangerous spirits who are 
attracted by the offerings (Christensen 1942, following p. 114). 

Figure 139 

Nino del Monte, Child of the Mountain 

Bark paper 

16.5 X 10 cm 

This unusual portrayal of the Child of the Mountain is placed 



on the main altar during Otomi rituals. Foliage grows out the 
figure's sides, and roots extend from its feet. 

Figure 140 

Servilleta del Monte, Napkin of the 
Mountain; also Escobetilla del Monte, 
Broomstraw of the Mountain 

Bark paper 

61 X 40.5 cm 

Figure 141 

Servilleta del Monte, Napkin of the 

Bark paper 
59.5 X 43 cm 

«e444?«404«4«««0«0« 4*4 9*4 ♦♦««♦♦« 


Otomi altars are designed to be beautiful places, appropriate 
settings for beneficial spirits to receive offerings. These paper 
cuttings serve the dual function of beautifying the altar and 
keeping dangerous spirits away. Figure 140 is the more standard 
adornment; figure 141 is a variation. Double bird motifs, which 
symbolize watchfulness, are found in both figures. Figure 140 
has a rosette as its central feature. The rosette is sometimes 
interpreted as a series of upraised arms and sometimes as the 
broomstraw plant. Both images are placed on the altar to sweep 
it clean of dangerous spirits. It is specially cut for the Cos- 
tumbre del Monte, Ritual for the Mountain (Fitl 1975, p. 151). 



Figure 142 

Servilleta de Estrella de la Montana, 

Napkin of the Star of the Mountain 
Bark paper 
41 X 30 cm 

Figure 143 

Servilleta de Estrella de la Noche, 

Napkin of the Evening Star 
Bark paper 
42.5 X31 cm 

* •<? v *** *©* 


1 ^VJ? 

' ■ • ** 

Otomi shamans use both of these cuttings as altar adornments. 
Figure 142 is cut with the watchful-birds motif, while figure 
143 is decorated with star designs. Both of these napkins are 
used in conjunction with rituals directed to the spirit Ma Yoho 
Nija (Two-Shrine) to ask for rain (Sandstrom 1981, pp. 66, 
94; Galinier 1976c, pp. 169-70). 

Lenz photographed similar mats in the 1940s. Since the mats 
appear to be the same as those cut today, it seems that demands 
of the tourist trade have not had much of an effect on their 
design. Today's mats are cut from extra large sheets of bark 
paper. They thus represent an additional expense for the spon- 
sor of the rituals in which they are used. Compared to other 
relatively simple Nahua altar mats, these altar mats are master- 
pieces of complexity. 



The final group includes some miscellaneous paper images 
cut for special rituals. 

Figure 144 

Cama de Ataque, Attack Bed; also, 
Cama de Antigua, Ancient Bed 
or Bed of Ancient Ones, 
plus many other names 

Bark paper 

24 X 11.5 cm 


o o 





Figure 145 Cama de Ataque, Attack Bed; 

also Silla, Seat 
Bark paper 
21 X 13.5 cm 



The Otomis call these images pepechtli or tlapexque, taken from 
the Nahuatl tepextli, meaning "bed." Paper images of spirits 
are displayed on top of these cutouts during rituals. The term 
"attack bed" refers to the attack spirits (those disease-causing 
spirits of people who died tragically) that are placed on them. 
Dozens of the figures and beds may be cut for a single ritual, 
and all of them are disposed of afterwards. The significance 
of the two styles of bed is not known. Spranz has suggested 
that the cloverleaf cuts in figure 145 represent crossroads or 
the four directions. (Spranz 1961, pp. 60-61; Fitl 1975, pp. 
145-46; Christensen 1971, pp. 25-26; 1942, 113; Lenz 1973 
[1948] p. 132; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 13). 



Figure 146 

Gente Mala, Spirit of Bad People 

Bark paper 

Size of original unknown 

After Christensen (1971, p. 22) 

Figure 147 

Gene Buena, Spirit of Good People 

Bark paper 

Size of original unknown 

After Christensen (1971, p. 24) 

A common theme in Otomi rituals is the juxtaposition of good 
and bad spirits. The spirit of a good person, one who had a 
good death, can protect the living from attacks by harmful 
spirits. There is a great deal of variation in how the spirits 
of good and bad people are portrayed. Figure 146, the Spirit 
of Bad People, is a female with four arms and heavy boots. 
Figure 147 is a male with bare feet. As mentioned earlier, 
boots or shoes on a paper cutting signify danger, while salutary 
spirits are cut with bare feet (Fitl 1975, pp. 147, 149, 156-59). 



Figure 148 

Ra Zate, Espiritu del Leon, 

Spirit of the Lion 

(Jaguar or Cougar) 

Size of original unknown 
After Lenz (1973 [1948], following p 


The jaguar is a symbol of power and strength for the Otomis, 
and its spirit is believed to guard the sick and those who have 
died. Often a paper image of the jaguar is buried with a corpse 
to protect the soul from attack by wild animals. The Otomis 
believe that each person has an animal companion called a rogi 
whose life parallels that of the person. Powerful shamans often 
have the jaguar as their animal companion. This image is cut 
for rituals dedicated to the Lord of the Mountain (Fitl 1975, 
p. 152; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 15; Christensen 
1952, pp. 266-67; Lenz [1948], pp. 131-32). 

Figure 149 

Espiritu del Enfermo, Spirit 

of the Patient 
Bark paper 
20.5 X 7 cm 
Boiles collection 

In an effort to cure disease, Otomi curers sometimes cut an 
image of the patient out of paper. The image will then be 
manipulated in a ritual in order to effect a cure. Here the 
patient is portrayed wrapped in a bark paper blanket (Fitl 
1975, p. 147; Lannik, Palm, and Tatkon 1969, p. 15; Chris- 
tensen 1952, p. 266). 



Figure 150 
Hyadi, Sol, Sun 
17X5.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

This image was cut by an Otomi shaman in Tzimatla, Vera- 
cruz. It represents the spirit of the sun, the key spirit in the 
Otomi pantheon, which is symbolized by the circular arrange- 
ment of cuts. This figure is used in curing rituals (Dow 1974, 
p. 97; 1982, p. 645). 

Figure 151 
Tambor, Drum 
17 X 6 cm 
Boiles collection 

The Spirit of the Drum portrayed here was cut in the Otomi 
village of El Zapote in northern Veracruz. The image of the 
drum can be seen in the center of the figure's body. For the 
Otomis, each musical instrument has a kind of force or spirit 
which animates it. This figure is cut for the propitiation ritual 
held at the top of a sacred mountain (see Galinier 1976c, p. 



Figure 152 

BidPih, Spirit of the Slit 

Drum (teponaztli) 

17.5 X5.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

The slit drum, known in the literature by the Nahuatl word 
teponaztli, is a pre-Columbian instrument that is still played 
in some of the more remote Indian villages in Mexico. Por- 
trayed here is the Spirit of the Slit Drum, which was cut in the 
Otomf village of El Zapote in northern Veracruz (see Galinier 
1976c, p. 162). 

Figure 153 

Santa Rosa, Sacred Rose or Saint Rose 
of Lima(?); also, La Sirena, the Siren 

17.5 X6.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

This figure represents the spirit of the marijuana plant. The 
Sacred Rose, which may be symbolically connected to Saint 
Rose of Lima, is identified with a water spirit called the Siren 
and is the object of several important Otomi rituals. Marijuana 
leaves are eaten during the rituals because to smoke them would 
be to mix fire and water. The central cuts represent marijuana 



Figure 154a 
Spirit of a man for 

love magic 
23 X 9 cm 
Dow collection 

Figure 154b 
Spirit of a woman 

for love magic 
21 X 8.5 cm 
Dow collection 



v y 



7 V 



Figure 154c 

Spirit of man and 
woman in love- 
making position 


Dow collection 

This group of paper images was cut by a shaman in the Otomi 
village of Chicamole, San Bartolo, Tutotepec, state of Hidalgo. 


The Otomfs use these figures in magical procedures designed 
to make people fall in love. Shamans cut out paper images of 
the two people to be affected and place the images in a love- 
making position. After offerings and chants are delivered to the 
images, the man and woman who are the subjects of the ritual 
will be compelled to fall hopelessly in love. According to the 
Otomis, neither party need be aware of the ritual for it to be 
effective (Christensen 1963, p. 365; 1971, pp. 37-38). 

The variety of paper images in this last category reveals 
much about the animistic view of the world held by the Otomis. 
Not only are people, plants, and animals susceptible to ritual 
manipulation, but objects like musical instruments are also. 
As far as we know, no other group in the region cuts such a 
variety of paper images nor uses them in so many different 
rituals. It is no wonder that the Otomis have the reputation 
of being masters of the costumbre rituals. 

Features of Otomi religion generally appear similar to the 
Nahua religious concepts and practices discussed in chapter 
4. The similarity extends to certain paradoxical characteristics 
concerning the nature of the spirits and the organization of the 
spirit pantheon. Like the Nahuas, the Otomis appear to have 
numerous spirits, all existing in multiple manifestations or alter 
egos. This leads to the confusion of names that is so apparent 
in ethnographic reports on the Otomis. Furthermore many 
spirits have what appear to be contradictory attributes. The 
earth is a beneficient provider and at the same time a devouring 
monster that leads malos aires. These paradoxes, which are 
also evident when we examine Tepehua religion, are not the 
result solely of incomplete reportage on the Indian cultures. 
We will argue in chapter 7 that the paradoxes and the design 
features of the paper images are keys to a fundamental under- 
standing of the costumbre religion. 



In 1900, while conducting his research on the anthropometry 
of the Indians of Mexico, Frederick Starr visited the Tepehua 
village of Huehuetla in the state of Hidalgo. He noted that 
"at Huehuetla ancient idols and parts of figures are now ob- 
jects of veneration" (1901, p. 85). This is the first published 
hint of pre-Columbian survivals among the Tepehuas. In 1937 
the French ethnographer Robert Gessain and his wife followed 
Starr's lead and travelled to Huehuetla, where they planned to 
conduct a long-term field study of Tepehua culture. Gessain 
was particularly interested in survivals of the ancient religion 
and, in fact, was the first to report that the Tepehuas, too, 
use paper images (1938). In reporting his findings, Gessain 
notes that up to that time few ethnographers had written about 
the religious and curative ceremonies, known widely by the 
name costumbres, that were practiced by the Mexican Indians. 
He also states, u Of equal importance, the munecos, ritual figures 
of cut paper, have never, to our knowledge, been written about. 
My wife and I have had the chance to make the first collection 
known" (1938, p. 343; translation ours). Illness forced an end 
to the research after only a few weeks, and it was not until 
twenty-five years later that a study of Tepehua culture was 
completed. In 1963 the Mexican ethnographer Roberto Wil- 
liams Garcia published a study of the Tepehua villages of Chin- 
tipan and Pisa Flores located in the municipio of Ixhuatlan de 
Madero, Veracruz. Williams Garcia later published a collection 
of Tepehua myths ( 1972). 

The organization of the paper images in this chapter follows 
that used in the previous two chapters. First we present disease- 
causing spirits, then a description of a curing ritual. The ritual 




is an example of how the paper images are used by Tepehua 
ritual specialists. Next is a section containing beneficent spirits 
that are propitiated in large rituals aimed at securing health, 
rain, fertility, and the like. This section is followed by the images 
of seed spirits featured in crop increase rituals. The final section 
contains miscellaneous paper images cut for special, infre- 
quently held rituals. We have selected a total of forty-four 
paper images as a sample of the many cut by Tepehua shamans. 
Some of these are from private collections, but the majority 
are taken from the published works of Williams Garcia and 

Among the Tepehuas, both males and females are active 
ritual specialists. Males may be either curanderos ("curers") or 
adivinos ( u diviners") or both at the same time. The curandero, 
called hakuch 'uunu ' in Tepehua, is a specialist in aspects of medi- 
cine such as herbal cures, which have no connection to the 
religious system. The adivino, called hapapand, cures by con- 
trolling the spirits that cause disease. The adivino is the main 
religious practitioner in Tepehua villages (Williams Garcia 1963, 
p. 173). Females may be either a dakunu (partem, or "mid- 
wife") or adivina ("diviner"). The Tepehuas believe that giving 
birth offends the earth, and so midwives who help in the birth- 
ing process also hold special rituals to make amends to the earth 
(see Williams Garcia 1966b; 1967). Female diviners are former 
midwives who have their own set of ritual procedures. The 
Tepehua term hatakuunu ("female ritual specialist") can be used 
for either female diviners or midwives (Williams Garcia 1963, 
p. 141). Because they specialize in different areas of knowledge, 
male and female diviners and midwives often work together in 
curing and propitiation rituals. The similar status of these three 
practitioners is shown by the fact that the Malaqachanin spirits 
or "Star Guardians" are considered equally to be the compan- 
ions of all Tepehua ritual specialists (Williams Garcia 1963, 
p. 144). 

A midwife may become a female diviner if she receives a sign 
from the spirits. Diviners of both sexes are called to their 
profession by mystical dreams or by recovery from chronic 


illness (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 142). Like their Nahua and 
Otomf counterparts, Tepehua ritual specialists are viewed with 
some ambivalence. Diviners who become bad and practice their 
craft to harm people are called haxkayandn ("sorcerers"). Such 
people are greatly feared and are believed to hold secret cere- 
monies designed to steal people's spirits or spread disease. On 
the other hand, midwives or female diviners who die become 
Lak'ainananin ("Great Diviners" or "Great Midwives"), semi- 
deified intermediary spirits who live with the sun and stars. 
Male diviners who die become Lak'aitatanin ("Great Diviners"). 
They receive the offerings and prayers of their living counter- 
parts and intercede with powerful beneficial spirits on behalf 
of living humans (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 141, 145, 173; 
1967, p. 303; 1972, p. 42). 

Midwives perform a special ritual called the costumbrita. The 
ritual is directed strictly to the earth and to spirits of the dead 
that live inside of the earth (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 149). 
Male and female diviners, on the other hand, perform general 
cleanings or rituals directed to a range of beneficial spirits. 
Midwives and female ritual specialists do not cut paper images, 
but instead use the shredded inner bark of the jonote de hule 
tree (genus Heliocarpus) to make nonanthropomorphic brush- 
like images of salutary spirits. These images are formed by 
wrapping pieces of copal resin, representing the spirit's heart, 
in small bunches of the shredded fiber. Called halachint in 
Tepehua [munecas in Spanish or "female dolls"), the images are 
laid in a row to form an altar. Only the male diviner cuts 
images of the spirits out of paper, and for this reason rituals 
conducted by men are considered to be more powerful than 
those conducted by women. The paper images are called hala- 
sitnit in Tepehua or munecos ("dolls") in Spanish. When speak- 
ing Spanish, the Tepehuas use the word brujos ("witches") when 
discussing paper images, with no apparent negative connotation 
(Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 139, 173, 185-86). 

Paper images are cut in large numbers for rituals, and they 
are laid out on paper beds that are then stacked like a thick 
book. As the ritual unfolds, the shaman may remove the beds 


one at a time so that the paper images act as a guide to the 
chanting and the symbolic acts. The shaman thus uses the paper 
images in much the same way that the ancient codices were 
used by the Aztec priests (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 144, 148, 
186). The Tepehuas of this region no longer make bark paper, 
but instead rely on manufactured paper purchased in the mar- 
ket. As it does among the Nahuas and Otomis, the color of the 
paper has symbolic significance, with black, yellow, red, or 
white usually reserved for the more negative spirits and Manila 
paper used for beneficial ones. The paper out of which the 
images are cut is called papelde brujo ("witch paper") (Williams 
Garcia 1963, pp. 173, 185-86). 

The paper figures, according to Williams Garcia (1963, p. 
186), are images of things, objects, persons, or concepts that 
are named by combining the word sombra ("shadow") with the 
idea represented. Thus an image of a guardian star is called 
Sombra de la Estrella (Shadow of the Star). He further states 
that to the Tepehuas the concepts of soul, spirit, and shadow 
are all the same (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 138). The Tepehua 
word for shadow is tukuwin (Williams Garcia 1967, p. 288). 
A shadow is conceived of as an "ethereal image" that can be 
separated from the original object or person and manipulated 
by shamans. Paper images are not the spirit itself, then, but 
are merely "copies" of the shadow. The images are sacralized 
and brought to life when the shaman splashes them with animal 
blood (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 138-39). It seems reasonable 
to say that the Tepehua concept of tukuwin is analogous to the 
Nahua ideas of noyolo or notorial and the Otomi concepts oizaki 
or na xudi. Concepts such as these are always difficult to 
translate from one culture to another, but it is certain that 
among the Tepehuas the paper images are more than simple 
pictures of spirits to be venerated. 

The Tepehuas have a complex view of the universe and the 
spirit entities that inhabit it. Following is a summary of the 
Tepehua pantheon, which sets the context for the paper images 
presented later (see also table 7). In the sky lives Wilhchaan, 
the Sun, which is viewed by the Tepehuas as a paramount deity. 


The sun is a Lapanak, or Lord, and it protects human beings 
and has a major responsibility for making crops grow. In Spanish 
the sun is called Dios— just as among the Nahuas and Otomis — 
and it is equated with Jesus Christ. Behind the sun stands an 
indissoluble pair called Ixpayixnatikinpaydios, which means 
Father and Mother of Our Lord. In Spanish this pair is called 
San Jose and La Virgen (Saint Joseph and the Virgin) (Williams 
Garcia 1963, p. 192; Gessain 1952-53, p. 209). The stars are 
the sun's helpers, and at night they take over the sun's role 
as protector. After the sun goes down, stones threaten to turn 
into jaguars and devour people. The star guardians, called 
std'ku in Tepehua, shoot arrows (aero/t'tos, or "meteorites") to 
kill the stones before they can attack anyone (Williams Garcia 
1972, p. 32; 1963, p. 192). Another paramount spirit is Jam- 
anawin, which means Dueno General or "General Owner" or 
"Lord." This may be an aspect of the sun or perhaps another 
spirit entirely (Williams Garcia 1967, p. 289). 

Standing in opposition to the sun and stars is another La- 
panak, the moon, called Malhkuyu' in Tepehua. The moon is 
associated with the Devil and with the dangerous spirits of the 
dead that he leads. It gives rise to demons who feast on blood 
and terrorize humans. No apparent association is made between 
the moon and the Virgin Mary as it is among the Nahuas. The 
moon has also an indissoluble parental pair behind it called 
Ixpayixnati Malhkuyu'. One of the pair is called the Sereno 
Amarillo or "Yellow Siren" (sereno is the local pronunciation 
of the Spanish sireno). This male aspect is associated with the 
pale, cold light given off by the moon. The female aspect is 
called Serena Rojo, or Red Siren, which lives inside of the 
moon and is responsible for the menstrual cycle. No paper 
image is made of the moon itself, but the "devils" associated 
with it are cut from red or yellow paper with hornlike crescents 
in the headdress (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 192-93; 1972, p. 
34; Gessain 1952-53, p. 209). 

The Virgin Mary has multiple manifestations in Tepehua 
thought. Besides being the mother of the sun, she is also Kin- 
paxhatnatik'an (the Virgin) and Hachiuxtinin (Patroness of 



Women), who controls human fertility. In addition, in her 
manifestation as the Virgin of Guadalupe, she is linked to the 
water spirit (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 140, 195, 197; 1967, 
pp. 287-88). Accompanying the Virgin in the sky are the 
Tacunin, water- related spirits of women who died in childbirth. 
These spirits travel with the clouds and carry rain to the fields. 
Also in the sky are the Negros (Black Ones), spirits who carry 
red-hot coals to help evaporate the sea when it threatens to 
overrun its banks and flood the world. When these coals fall, 
they are called texq'oyam in Tepehua or bolidos in Spanish, 
meaning "fiery meteors" or "shooting stars." This implies that 
Sacred Fire, called Santa Lumbre, resides in the sky when he is 
not guarding over families from the three stones around the 
fireplace. Finally there are the spirits of ritual specialists who 
watch from overhead and act as intermediaries between the 
people on earth and the powerful spirits above (Williams Garcia 
1963, pp. 98, 140; 1972, pp. 32-34). 

The earth is called Xalapanalakat'un (Lord of the Earth), 
and, just as among the Nahuas and Otomis, it has multiple 
manifestations. In Spanish the earth is called Santa Tierra (Sacred 
Earth), and it is thought of as kind of a living being that can 
become annoyed at the activities of humans. For this reason 
offerings must be made to the earth on a regular basis. The 
Mother and Father of the Earth form an indissoluble pair 
called Ixpayixnatilakat'un, and it is this pair that often becomes 
annoyed at people. In fact the costumbrita held by Tepehua 
midwives is directed to this pair rather than to Santa Tierra. 
The earth provides the crops that are the basis of life, but it 
also consumes dead bodies and contains the underworld within 
itself. In its devouring aspect the earth is called Serior Mende- 
zuma or Santasoma, both of whom are variations of the name 
Moctezuma. This aspect of the earth, in league with the moon, 
Malhkuyu', is in charge of the spirits of those who died tragic 
deaths (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 101, 138, 141, 151, 193-94; 
1972, pp. 37-39). 

The earth is the home of several beneficial spirits. Apparently 
the Lord of the Wind (Xalapanak'un) lives on earth, although 


it has no connection to the malos aires (spirits of the dead). 
It is, instead, associated with cool breezes that relieve the heat of 
the day or foretell of coming rain and that are thought to be 
caused by sacred children playing in the sky. There is also 
Xachan'achin, Lord of the Mountain, which seems to be as- 
sociated symbolically with vegetation. A correspondence is ap- 
parent between this spirit and the spirit of the same name found 
among the Otomis. The seed spirits live on the earth, and they 
are generally thought to be the children of the Water Spirit. 
The spirit of maize, however, is conceived of as the offspring 
of the Deer Spirit and is preeminent among the seeds (Williams 
Garcia 1972, p. 119). Just as they are among the Nahuas and 
Otomis, paper images of the Tepehua seed spirits are kept in 
special wooden cabinets on an altar in the village shrine. They 
are given occasional offerings in order to increase the harvest. 
Finally the spirit Santa Rosa (Sacred Rose) is propitiated in 
Tepehua villages. It is equated with marijuana, but unlike the 
Otomis and Nahuas, the Tepehuas apparently associate it with 
the earth rather than with water (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 
196-97, 200-202, 220-21; 1972, pp. 37, 43; see figure 178). 
The underworld is called Lak'nin and is the residence of the 
spirits of those who died natural deaths. These spirits are 
called janinin, and they are thought to live a pleasant life 
modeled on the one they lived on earth. Before reaching the 
underworld, however, each spirit passes through a series of trials 
to expiate sins accumulated during its lifetime. First the newly 
arrived spirit is cast into a fire so that it will confess any wrong- 
doings. Then it is passed through a sugarcane press (trapiche) 
to remove all its blood. Following this, the spirit is free to 
begin its new life. Lak'nin is organized much like a municipio 
with zpresidente and various political offices. Just as among living 
people, the spirits must stand before secretaries to get necessary 
papers filled out. During the celebration of Todos Santos (All 
Souls), the Tepehuas make offerings to the spirits of their an- 
cestors in Lak'nin so that they will remain satisfied in the under- 
world. As long as the offerings are made, a spirit will refrain 
from visiting its living kinsmen to seek revenge. The fate of 


the spirit is determined, for the most part, by the cause of 
death rather than by behavior while on earth. However, a per- 
son's occupation can also have a role in determining the fate 
of the soul (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 197-98; 1972, pp. 37-41). 

The spirits of people who were murdered or who died bad 
deaths come under the power of Moctezuma and Malhkuyii', 
the moon. They are called maxkaVun in Tepehua or malos 
aires ( u bad airs") or malos vientos ("bad winds") in Spanish, 
and they sometimes take the form of owls when they return to 
earth to spread disease. These malignant spirits are doomed 
forever to wander around with the Devil searching for new 
victims. The Devil is called Tlakakikuru (from the Nahuatl 
Tlacatecolotl, Owl Man), and it is this spirit that leads the 
malos aires abroad so that they spread disease and death. Al- 
though the Tepehuas have borrowed the word Tlakakikuru 
from the Nahuas, the latter have a different spirit, Tlauelilo, 
that they call the Devil. The most dangerous manifestation of 
the bad winds is the tamoswilhfuntin or "whirlwind" that car- 
ries off peoples' spirits, leaving them to sicken and die. During 
the celebration of Carnaval (Carnival), the Devil and his min- 
ions, impersonated by masked dancers, visit the villages, causing 
a commotion and demanding payment from each household. 
The dancers mock authority and in a joking and irreverent 
manner violate the norms of everyday village life. Ash Wednes- 
day marks a return to normal life, and the "devils" are ban- 
ished from the village for another year (Williams Garcia 1963, 
pp. 193, 197, 244ff.; 1972, pp. 38-40, 43; Gessain 1952-53, 
p. 210). 

In spite of all the sky, earth, and underworld spirits men- 
tioned so far, Williams Garcia claims that the preoccupation of 
the Tepehuas of Pisa Flores is centered on water (1972, p. 41). 
The Lord of the Water is Xalapanaak Xkan, and this spirit is 
considered a more immediate presence than the distant sun 
and stars or the ambivalent earth. Behind the Lord of the Water 
stand the indissoluble parental pair Ixpayixnatixkan. They are 
the caretakers, those that "care for everything we eat." The 
male aspect is called El Sereno, and he wears green clothes and 


is the patron of all animals. When angered, El Sereno produces 
thunder and lightning. The female aspect, called La Serena, 
also wears green and has feet like a duck. She lives in a dis- 
tant lake and sends the rain and wind. She is called Reine Pure, 
Pure Queen, by Gessain (1952-53, p. 209; see also Williams 
Garcia 1963, pp. 194-96; 1972, p. 35). 

Spirits called Papanin (Viejos, or Old Ones) actually produce 
the rain. These are viewed as small men who wear rubber 
sleeves on their coats and who travel in the clouds carrying 
walking sticks (bastones). By striking their staffs the Papanin 
produce thunder and lightning, and if they should encounter 
ice they cast it down in the form of hail. When not traveling 
in the clouds, these spirits live in Xakan Papanin, or House 
of the Old Ones, where they store their coats and walking 
sticks. One of the Papanin, called Sini in Tepehua and El 
Sereno or San Juan in Spanish, lives in the ocean and initiates 
the rainy season each spring. When the sound of distant thunder 
is heard just before the onset of the rains, the Tepehuas say 
that Sini is striking his staff. There is an apparent lack of agree- 
ment among the Tepehuas over who leads the Old Ones. The 
average person thinks that they are led by Jesus, while the 
shamans insist that Xalapanaak Xkan leads them. Some people 
interviewed said that Jesus and the Lord of the Water are one 
and the same. Other somewhat ambiguous water spirits include 
Muchacha del Agua (Girl of the Water), who controls fish and 
who may be a manifestation of La Serena; Halapanaxkan, also 
translated as Lord of the Water, but who in this negative 
manifestation scares people when they cross water so that he 
can steal their spirits; and the Tacunin, or women who died in 
childbirth and now carry rainwater to the fields (Williams 
Garcia 1963, p. 196; 1972, pp. 35-37; 1979, p. 125; Gessain 
1952-53, p. 209). 

The Tepehuas tell a remarkable myth about the sacred resi- 
dence of the spirits that helps us understand their pantheon 
as well as certain aspects of their rituals. They say that at the 
point on the horizon where the sun rises each morning is a 
fabulous wonderland called the Cerro de Oro (Golden Hill). 



Here, dressed in resplendent robes and surrounded by beauty, 
live the major Tepehua spirits. The spirits are seated at two 
tables, the most elegant of which is called the Gran Mesa 
(Great Table). Here is seated the Sun, surrounded by his 
helpers, the Stars. The second table is occupied by all of the 
other spirits of lesser rank, such as the Earth and Water. The 
tables are covered with iridescent cloths laden with the finest 
food offerings of every description. The spirits of sacred mu- 
sicians, called Makanq'achanin, play beautiful melodies con- 
tinuously, and there are processions of censers, shamans, and 
dancers to entertain the assembled spirits. The spirits of the 
newly dead pass before the tables to be judged and to be 
assigned an appropriate afterlife. Most go to Lak'nin, but some, 
including male and female diviners, midwives, women who died 
in childbirth, sacred musicians, and dancers, stay on the Golden 
Hill to serve the spirits (see table 7 for Tepehua names of these 
particular spirits and for a general summary of the Tepehua 
pantheon). Those who died unfortunate deaths go with the Devil 
(Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 144-46, 197-98). 

table 7. The Tepehua Pantheon 

Realms of the Universe and Associated Spirits 


Wilhchaan (Sun, Jesus) 

Ixpayixnatikinpaydios (dual caretakers, parents, Joseph and Mary) 

Kinpaxhatnatik'an (Virgin Mary); also 

Hachiuxtinfn (Patronness of Women) 
Jamanawin (General Lord) 
Sta'ku (star guardians) 
Texq'oyam (shooting stars) 
Santa Lumbre (Sacred Fire) 
Malhkuyu' (Moon, associated with Tlakakikuru) 

Ixpayixnati Malhkuyu' (dual caretakers, parents, 
Yellow and Red Sirens) 
Malaqachanin (star guardian companions of ritual specialists) 


table 7. Continued 

Lak'ainananin (intermediary spirits of female diviners and 

Lak'aitatanin (intermediary spirits of shamans) 
Makanq'achanin (sacred musicians) 


Xalapanalakat'un (Lord of the Earth); also 

Santa Tierra (Sacred Earth) 
Ixpayixnatilakat'un (dual caretakers, parents) 
Moctezuma (devouring Earth) 
Xalapanak'un (Lord of the Wind) 
Xachan'achin (Lord of the Mountain) 
Seeds (associated with Lord of the Water) 
Santa Rosa (Marijuana) 
House Guardian Spirit 

Lak'nin (Underworld) 
Tlakakikuru (Devil) 
Janinin (Spirits of the dead) 
Moctezuma (associated with the earth) 
Maxkai'un (bad airs) also 

Tamoswilhi'untin (Whirlwind) 


Xalapanaak Xkan (Lord of the Water, associated with Jesus and 

the Virgin of Guadalupe) 
Ixpayixnatixkan (dual caretakers, parents, Sirens) 
El Sereno (male Siren); also 

Sini (San Juan, one of the Papanin) 
La Serena (female Siren); also 
Reine Pure (Pure Queen) 
Muchacha del Agua (Girl of the Water) 
Papanin (rain spirits, associated with Thunder and Lightning) 
Halapanaxkan (negative Lord of the Water) 

Tacunin (Water Bearers, women who died giving birth, associated 
with the sky) 

It is to the spirits of the shamans on the Golden Hill that 
contemporary shamans direct their offerings. Their deceased 


colleagues act as intermediaries by presenting the offerings to 
the Sun and the lesser spirits that surround him. When conduct- 
ing rituals, the shamans lay out offerings on three separate 
squares they call mesas. The first two hold offerings to the first 
and second tables on the Golden Hill, and the third is dedicated 
to the spirit intermediaries. During their chants the shamans 
make constant reference to a Serior Santacena, which Williams 
Garcia interprets as a reference to La Ultima Cena (the Last 
Supper). It seems likely that the whole image of the Golden 
Hill with the Sun-Christ surrounded by lesser spirits is taken 
from descriptions or perhaps a picture of Christ's Last Supper 
brought to the Indians by missionaries some time in the last 
450 years. The concept of the Golden Hill is an extraordinary 
example of the syncretic nature of Tepehua religion. The major 
spirits who live on the Golden Hill are called by the general 
term Los Antiguas (the Ancient Ones). This term also applies 
to certain of the paper images, such as the seed spirits, and to 
small prehistoric heads or figurines that shamans place on their 
altars (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 144-46, 197-98). See chapters 
4 and 5 regarding similar beliefs among the Nahuas and Otomis 
concerning the Antiguas. 

The Tepehuas do not have a particularly elaborate system to 
propitiate the various Catholic saints. In each village the agente 
municipal or local elected official who represents the village to 
higher levels of government appoints zpixcal, who, with some 
assistants, cares for the village statues. In a meeting called by 
the agente, villagers select a mayordomo, who, along with assis- 
tants, organizes the various costumbres held in the village. The 
agente is charged with organizing work on the communal field, 
the proceeds from which are used to finance ritual observances. 
During certain holidays, for example Todos Santos (All Souls), 
the saints' statues are carried in a procession to the shrine, 
which may simply be an official's house, and a ritual is held 
on their behalf. Often there is more than one shrine in a village. 
Shrines with a Christian orientation are called the lakatata or 
"place of the priest," while those with a more traditional orien- 
tation are called lakachinchin, which means u sun place" or "house 


of Los Antiguas." Masonry churches such as might be found 
in municipio centers are called tahkin, meaning "place of the 
sun." Like other Indian groups, the Tepehuas do not see a 
fundamental difference between Christianity and the traditional 
Indian religion since they have syncretized both systems into 
the unique religion they practice today. They do realize, how- 
ever, that missionaries and other outsiders may not understand 
this, and thus they take certain precautions such as building 
the traditional shrine well off of the most commonly used trails 
(Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 126ff., 198, 200; 1972, pp. 21-30). 


Like the Nahuas and Otomis, the Tepehuas attribute mis- 
fortune, disease, and death to the actions of spirits. There are 
two ways that spirits cause disease: by stealing a person's sombra 
and through attack by malos aires. Surprisingly the spirits most 
often accused of sombra theft are the most prominent members of 
the Tepehua pantheon. These include the Sun, Water, Earth, 
and Maize (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 138). In fact any spirit is 
capable of this act, and the danger of u soul loss" is thus a 
pervasive concern to the Tepehuas. The malos aires or diablos 
("devils"), as they are sometimes called by the Tepehuas, func- 
tion much like the Nahua ejecat/ and the Qtomi judios. They are 
infectious agents that the shaman removes during curing rituals. 
Tepehua paper images of the malos aires resemble those cut 
by the Nahuas in that their appearance is rather bland and 
unthreatening. Tepehua shamans cut them out as individual 
images, never multiple; they are frequently in male and female 



Figure 155a 

Lakatikurulh (from the 
Nahuatl Tlacatecolotl, 
Owl Man), Devil, some- 
times mal aire, 
"bad air" (male) 


17.5 X 5.5 cm 

Boiles collection 

Figure 155b 

Lakatikurulh (from the 
Nahuatl Tlacatecolotl, 
Owl Man), Devil, some- 
times mal aire, 
"bad air" (female) 


17.5 X5.5 cm 

Boiles collection 

Williams Garcia believes that the Tepehuas originally had no 
concept of the Devil or devils and that the idea was intro- 
duced either by Nahuatl speakers or by missionaries (1963, p. 
193). In contemporary Tepehua thought the Devil is one of the 
malos aires, but it is a particularly powerful one that leads all 
the others. These images of the malos aires are cut as a pair 
by Tepehua shamans. They represent the angry, vengeful spirits 
of people who died tragically. There are two possible interpre- 
tations of the headdress form. One is that it represents the jaws 
of the earth, the powerful force that consumes the bodies of the 
dead. This links the paper images to Moctezuma. The second is 
that it represents the crescent moon, another negative spirit 
in the Tepehua pantheon. The uppermost V cut in the body 



stands for the heart, while the lower one represents the stomach. 
Other cuts are clothing decorations. Figure 155a is cut with 
pointed knees which represent pants, thus identifying the spirit 
as male. 


Figure 156a 

(from the Na- 
huatl Tlacate- 
colotl, Owl 
Man), Diablo, 
Devil, some- 
times ma I aire, 
u bad air" (fe- 


17 X 6 cm 

Boiles collection 

Figure 156b 

(from the Na- 
huatl Tlacate- 
colotl, Owl 
Man), Diablo, 
Devil, some- 
times ma I aire, 
u bad air" (male) 


17 X 5 cm 

Boiles collection 


Figure 156c 

(from the Na- 
huatl Tlacate- 
colotl, Owl 
Man), Diablo, 
Devil, some- 
times ma I aire, 
"bad air" (male) 


17X5.5 cm 

Boiles collection 

These three images are cut as a group by shamans for use in 
curing rituals. No direct information is available concerning 
why the two male and single female figure are grouped to- 
gether, although it is possible that they represent a love tri- 
angle. Each is depicted with a heart and stomach in addition 
to clothing decorations. The female is wearing the two-piece 
dress typically worn by married women in the region; and the 



males wear jorongos. The headdress on figure 156b may repre- 
sent the closed jaws of the earth (Moctezuma) (compare figures 
163a, b). The bare feet in figure 156c suggest that it represents 
the spirit of an Indian man rather than that of a mestizo. 



Figure 157a 

Tlakakikuru (also from the 

Nahuatl Tlacatecolotl, 

Owl Man), Diablo, Devil, 

sometimes mal aire, 

u bad air" (female) 
17X5.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

Figure 157b 

Tlakakikuru (also 
from the Nahuatl 
Tlacatecolotl, Owl Man), 
Diablo, Devil, sometimes 
mal aire, u bad air" (male) 


17.5 X5.5 cm 

Boiles collection 

This is a version of the Devil portrayed as a male and female 
pair cut with hearts, stomachs, and the usual clothing decora- 
tions. The headdresses are simultaneous representations of the 
full and crescent moon. 








Figure 158a 
Tlakakikuru (also 

from the Nahuatl 

Tlacatecolotl, Owl Man), 

Diablo, Devil, sometimes 

ma/ aire, "bad air" 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 

(1963, p. 148) 

Figure 158b 
Tlakakikuru (also 

from the Nahuatl 

Tlacatecolotl, Owl Man), 

Diablo, Devil, sometimes 

ma I aire, "bad air" 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 

(1963, p. 148) 

This is another Tepehua representation of the Devil. The spirit 
is depicted as a male-female pair with wavy headdresses that 
symbolize wind. The ethnographer does not indicate which of 
the pair is male and which is female. Both are cut with hearts, 
and figure 158a has an inverted V cut that may represent 
genitals. The feet are cut to depict either footwear or blowing 
clothes. The Devil and its minions are thought to crave blood, 
and this accounts for their attack on human beings. During 
parts of the curing rituals designed to remove these spirits, 
animal blood is sprinkled on their paper images. The shaman 
hopes that the substitute blood will satisfy the spirits and that 
they will leave the patient alone. 



Figure 159 

Campo Santo, Graveyard 


17.5 X 5 cm 

Boiles collection 

In the animistic view of the world, the graveyard itself be- 
comes a ma/ aire, identified with spirits of the dead and itself 
capable of causing disease. The Tepehuas see the graveyard as 
a kind of two-way door between the underworld and the surface 
of the earth. While most spirits remain in the underworld, 
particularly if they are ritually fed during All Souls', there 
are always enough angry spirits lurking on the earth's surface 
to make the graveyard a dangerous place. The spirit is de- 
picted as a male, with clothing decorations, a heart, and the 
open jaws of the devouring earth on its head. 

In his ethnography of the Tepehuas, Williams Garcia includes 
two complete sets of paper images used in curing rituals. In 
typical fashion, these are arranged as a series of paper beds. 
One set is composed of figures 160a, b, 158a, b, plus two beds 
of the paper images of people (hombre), not reproduced here. 
Of the total of fifteen beds comprising both sets, only four 
contain images of ma/os aires (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 148, 
268). Thus it would appear that Tepehua shamans do not cut 
a large variety of these disease-causing spirits. This contrasts 
with Nahua and Otomi shamans, who cut a diversity of types 
of ma/os aires and who use great numbers of them in curing 
rituals. An additional distinction of Tepehua ma/os aires is that 
they are invariably cut in male-female pairs or in groups that 
contain at least specific male and female individuals. The Na- 


huas occasionally cut male-female pairs, but they do not seem 
to emphasize the practice. 

These differences, however, should not obscure the funda- 
mental similarities among the three cultures in their conceptions 
of the disease-causing spirits. In fact, the points of similarity 
far outnumber the differences. In the first place, the malos aires 
are the wandering spirits of people who died tragically. They 
cause disease, are associated with the air, and are headed by 
a spirit called Moctezuma, who is an aspect of the earth. In 
addition they are led by a spirit called the Devil (Diablo in 

Stylistically the Tepehua cutouts resemble the Nahua figures 
more than those cut by the San Pablito Otomis. But they share 
with both Nahuas and Otomis the upright stance with the hands 
placed close to the head, the attention to details of dress and 
anatomy, and the symbolic importance of the headdress. In 
short, as a category of spirits the malos aires are remarkably 
similar among all three cultures in how they fit into the various 
pantheons, how they behave, how they are manipulated by the 
shaman, and how they are depicted. 

The Tepehuas, like the Nahuas and Otomis, accord to sha- 
mans a high degree of stylistic freedom in portraying the 
malos aires. We have representative works from two shamans, 
each with his own stylistic conventions. The Boiles collection, 
including figures 155a, b, c. 156a, b, 157a, b, and 159, were cut 
by a single shaman. They are fairly simple and can be identi- 
fied by their blocklike appearance, the pattern of V cuts in 
the body, and characteristic pointed heads. Figures 158a, b, 
collected by Williams Garcia, were cut by another shaman, 
whose work is clearly distinguishable in the figures presented 
below. His style is generally more elaborate, with a greater 
variety of shapes cut from the body of the figure and greater 
elaboration in headdresses. In addition the heads on his figures 
are usually more rounded. 


We have selected a cleansing ritual recorded by Roberto Wil- 


Hams Garcia in his ethnography Los Tepehuas (1963, pp. 164- 
68) to illustrate how paper images are used among the Tepe- 
huas. The ritual is more complex than the Nahua and Otomi 
cleansings described previously because among the Tepehuas 
three specialists collaborate to conduct rituals of this type: the 
shaman (adivino); an adivina (in this case, his wife); and a mid- 
wife (partera). Each of them has his and her own ritual pro- 
cedures, although only the shaman cuts the paper images. 

The Setting 

The patients are a man and his wife, both of whom have suf- 
fered from illness and bad dreams. A diviner called in earlier 
has determined that the couple is being molested by spirits of 
the dead in retaliation for a breach of conduct previously com- 
mitted by the man's father. It seems that the father was impli- 
cated in a murder, and the dead kinsmen of the victim are 
now seeking revenge on the son and his wife. A ritual to cleanse 
the couple is first held on the patio and then inside their house. 

The Cleansing 

The ceremony begins at noon. The shaman, the adivina, and 
the midwife sit on the ground before their separate displays of 
ritual items. The displays are composed of paper images 
(munecos), the small brushlike munecas used by the midwife and 
adivina, candles, bottles of aguardiente, braziers, unshelled ears 
of corn, corncobs, copal incense, flowers, leafy branches of li- 
monaria, clods of earth, and bunches of grass. Each prays in a 
hushed voice, censing and sprinkling aguardiente over his dis- 
play. The midwife prays to Senor Santasoma to remove the malos 
vientos that infect the couple. The midwife forms a bundle from 
the items in her display and moves it over and around the pa- 
tients while continuing to pray. 

The shaman now begins to act, first praying to the earth 
and then forming a bundle from paper figures, limonaria leaves, 
flowers, and a bottle of aguardiente. He holds this- bundle over 
each of the patients' heads while chanting, then suddenly waves 


it left and right, taking care not to let it touch the couple. 
Next he holds the bundle in front of their faces and has them 
spit on it. The act of spitting on the paper images shames the 
spirits and causes them to vacate the area. The curer hands each 
patient paper images representing his own sombra as he picks 
up a live rooster and adds it to the bundle. He describes a hori- 
zontal arch over the patients with the bundle of ritual items 
and the rooster, after which he has the couple spit on the 
paper images a second time. He then wrenches the head off 
the rooster and sprinkles the blood around the patients u in order 
to give food to the Devil and bad winds." 

Next, after placing their paper images on the ground before 
the shaman, the patients go to the midwife's display to ritually 
wash the dirt clods, ears of corn, and corncobs. The clumps of 
earth and ears of corn symbolize the field where the couple 
grows its food. These are washed to make amends to the earth 
and to cleanse away actions that have offended the dead spirits. 
They symbolically wash the corncobs to purify the food con- 
sumed by the spirits of the dead. Meanwhile the shaman stamps 
blood on each paper image with the severed head of the rooster. 
The three officiants next gather up their displays, forming three 
bundles. The shaman's bundle, along with the bunches of grass 
that represent the pasture, is suspended in the branches of a 
tree. The women's bundles are eventually thrown into the 
jungle along with ashes from the incense braziers. The ears of 
corn and corncobs, along with offerings of aguardiente and copal 
incense, are kept by the patients in a basket. These will continue 
to safeguard the couple against recurring spirit attack long after 
the ritual is over. 

Inside the house the three officiants engage in separate ritual 

Shaman: The shaman cuts fresh paper images representing the 
Earth, Water, Wind, Maize, Cross, Shrine (Lakachinchin), and 
Star, and he lays them out on the ground in front of the house 
altar. (See figures 160-71 for examples of these seven and of some 
additional major spirits). At one side of his display he lays 
marigold blossoms and the clods of earth taken from the field. 


He, too, invokes Serior Santasoma in his chants and then con- 
tinues to pray as he censes the display and sprinkles it with 
aguardiente. Later he sacrifices two large roosters and douses 
the paper images with their blood. This blood constitutes the 
offering to Senor Santasoma. 

Midwife: Nearby the midwife arranges her brushlike munecas 
dejonote, flowers, and limonaria leaves on a wooden box she calls 
her table (mesa). While chanting to the spirits, she arranges 
plates of food on her display and then dedicates the food by 
throwing pieces of it on the hot coals in the brazier. In her 
chant she addresses the dead relatives of the patients. She then 
has the couple exchange flowers and vows of mutual respect 
with the group of relatives who have gathered for the occasion. 
Afterward a third rooster is killed, and the midwife stamps 
blood on each one of the munecas with the severed head. Finally 
she forms a bundle out of her display, which she discards deep 
in the jungle. 

Adivina: The adivina arranges some munecas de jonote on the 
earthen floor near the house altar. She ritually cleanses the area, 
kills a fourth rooster, and casts its body out the door "for the 
Devil." Next she takes a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe and 
places it in the display along with flowers, limonaria leaves, 
and candles. She then takes paper images of farm animals and 
the sombras of the patients, all cut by her husband the shaman, 
and lays them out near the statue. This procedure enlists the 
Virgin in the protection of the patients and their animals. 

Midwife: Meanwhile the midwife lays out additional munecos 
cut by the shaman and dedicates offerings to them. The number 
of munecos corresponds to the number of prayers recited. She 
enlists the aid of the beneficial spirits represented to guard 
over her patients. 

Shaman: The shaman now arranges cups of coffee and bread 
on top of his display of paper images. He chants over them 


and occasionally pours coffee into a receptacle nearby. Ap- 
parently these offerings are dedicated to the shaman's inter- 
mediary spirit on the Golden Hill. Later on the coffee will be 
taken to the field and poured on the ground. 

Midwife: At this point the midwife conducts a cleansing of the 
patients to liberate them from the influences of Santa Rosa 
(marijuana). After dedicating offerings and conducting several 
cleansings, she paints the munecas de jonote with blood from one 
of the sacrificed roosters, using a feather as a brush. The bunches 
of flowers and limonaria leaves used in this sequence are placed 
by the doorway to repel any bad winds that try to enter the 

Shaman: The shaman makes another offering over his display 
as a gift to Serior Santasoma, this time using two of the roosters 
sacrificed earlier. 

Adivina: Meanwhile the adivina gathers up the paper images of 
farm animals and a smoking brazier and proceeds outside to 
cleanse the animals in the corral. She returns and, after dedi- 
cating offerings again to the munecas de jonote, stamps each one 
with the bloody neck of a sacrificed rooster. Then she gathers 
up the items in her display and forms them into yet another 

At this point the officiants place the remaining offerings and 
paper images on the house altar. The shaman has finished form- 
ing several small bundles using selected items that are put 
aside for later use. All of the items appearing on the house 
altar, including cigarettes and sacrificed roosters, are given to 
the three specialists as part of their payment. 

It is 3:00 a.m., and the shaman is digging a hole in the 
ground in the house patio. At the bottom of the hole he ar- 
ranges four pieces of copal incense into a "bed." He wraps a living 
rooster with paper images of the Earth and the Shrine, and, 
after holding them to the four cardinal points, he places the 


bird in the hole. He then fills in the hole, burying the rooster 
alive, and covers the burial site with a heavy stone to keep 
away rooting animals. At this point the shaman, adivina, and 
the midwife leave for home, carrying their payment goods in 

At dawn the patients walk to their field carrying paper 
images, the little bundles prepared by the shaman, the container 
of coffee, bread, and other offerings. Near a spring in the field, 
the bread and coffee are poured onto the ground as an offering 
to the water. Another rooster is buried alive along with paper 
images of Water, Maize, Wind, Cross, Star, and the Shrine. 
This act protects the couple from accidents. Back in the pa- 
tients' house, paper images of their sombras are displayed on the 
house altar to aid in their convalescence. 

Paper Images and the Ritual 

Although aspects of this ritual appear to be unique to the 
Tepehuas, in overall conception it is remarkably similar to the 
curings described in the previous two chapters. Structurally 
the cleansing of the malos aires precedes the offerings made to 
beneficial spirits, just as it does among the Nahuas and Otomis. 
The spirits addressed in the ritual are similar in conception to 
those addressed by the Nahuas and Otomis, such as malos aires, 
the Devil, Moctezuma, Water, and the Earth. Since the leading 
cause of the patients' mental and physical disturbances was 
diagnosed as the intruding spirits of a murder victim's kins- 
men, it appears that the malos aires play a role in disease eti- 
ology that is similar to that played by polluting ejecatl spirits 
of the Nahuas. As is done with the other groups, harmful 
spirits are removed in three basic steps: arranging paper images, 
making offerings, and casting out or destroying the paper 
figures. The five ritual elements first noted among the Nahuas 
(paper images, altars, offerings, chanting, and overall strategy) 
are also found here, with the forms only slightly modified. But 
it is the use of cut-paper images that distinguishes the costumbres 
of this area of Mexico from other religious complexes. The 


description provided by Williams Garcia clearly illustrates the 
central place of paper images in Tepehua rituals. 

In addition to gross similarities, many of the smaller details 
also coincide. Offerings are made indirectly to the spirits of 
deceased ritual specialists who act as intermediaries. These ap- 
pear to be equivalent in function to the witness spirits of the 
Nahuas. A bundle of sacralized herbs placed over the doorway 
performs the function of barring dangerous spirits, similar to the 
function of the large Otomi paper cutouts in figures 136-38. 
The striking offering to the earth in which a fowl is buried 
alive is also a reported practice among both Nahuas and Otomis. 
Underlying the main surface similarities is a layer of smaller 
correspondences, such as the liberal use of aguardiente, copal 
incense, flowers, sacred herbs, sacralized bundles, animal blood 
and cooked meat sacrifices, candles, and paid ritual specialists. 

This Tepehua curing ritual has many features, however, that 
are not reported for the other groups. Probably the most notable 
difference is the special ritual functions performed by the mid- 
wife, female diviner, and shaman. As described above each of 
these ritual specialists has a separate set of procedures that, 
when added together, create the complete ritual. The midwife, 
with her munecas de jonote, is concerned with the earth and the 
spirits of the dead. The munecas apparently symbolize some 
unspecified beneficial spirits. The shaman, or male diviner, 
seems to address a broader range of spirits and to set the pace 
of the ritual. The role of the female diviner is less clear. She 
enlists the aid of the Virgin of Guadalupe and has responsibility 
for cleansing the farm animals belonging to the patients. 

There are other differences as well. The procedure of spitting 
on the paper images to humiliate the malos aires is not re- 
ported for the other groups. The sequence of washing earth 
taken from the fields, as well as ears of corn and corncobs, 
does not appear to be part of the Nahua or Otomi curing rituals, 
although packets of earth are ritually cleansed in the Nahua- 
Otomf ritual described in chapter 2. The animal blessing has 
been reported among the Otomis but not among the Nahuas. 
Additional unique features include the use of the statue of the 


Virgin of Guadalupe to aid in protecting the patients, the 
exchange of mutual vows of respect among the relatives of the 
patients, the protection from the adverse influence of Santa 
Rosa, and the formation of mesas (tables) symbolically recreating 
the structure of the Golden Hill. 

Additional Tepehua rituals are listed in Table 8. As is the case 
with the other groups, a complete listing is impossible because 
the ritual specialists constantly innovate new rituals. The table 
gives an idea of the range of rituals practiced, along with the 
types of paper images associated with each one. 

table 8. Major Tepehua Rituals 

Limpia: The basic curing-cleansing ritual. Paper images: malos aires, 
including the Devil, stars, spirit of the patient (Gessain 1938, pp. 
356ff.; Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 154-68; 1972, pp. 55-56). 

Costumbrita: Curing ritual held by midwives directed to the earth 
and spirits of the dead. Paper images: munecos de jonote de hide 
(Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 149ff.). 

Limpia para Traer la Sombra: Curing ritual to restore stolen spirit 
of the patient. Paper images: figure of the patient, figure of the 
spirit suspected of stealing the sombra (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 

Ceremony for Barren Wives: Modified cleansing ritual used formerly 
to mark the physical maturity of girls. Paper images: figures of 
women who have committed infanticide and those who have not 
(Gessain 1938, p. 358; Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 169-72). 

Ritual to Prevent Epidemics: Ritual means of keeping disease out of 
the village. Paper images: guardian stars, shaman with brazier on 
his head, shaman dancing on the head of the Devil (Gessain 1938, 
p. 358; 1952-53, pp. 205-206). 

Costumbre a las Semillas: Major seed ritual that may involve a pil- 
grimage to a sacred lake. Paper images: seed spirits (Williams Garcia 
1963, pp. 98ff., 200-203; 1972, pp. 56-57). 

Fiesta de Elotes: Ritual celebrating the young ears of corn. Paper 
images: seed images, flowering maize plants, figure of man planting 
(Gessain 1938, p. 350; 1952-53, p. 206; Williams Garcia 1963, 
284-85; 1972, pp. 57-58). 

Ritual for Rain: Pilgrimage made to a sacred lake to propitiate the 



table 8. Continued 

siren who controls rainfall. Paper images: water siren, wind, thun- 
der, stars, figure of man, male and female water carriers, red sun 
figure (Gessain 1938, pp. 355-56; 1952-53, p. 205; Williams Garcia 
1963, pp. 204ff.; 1972, pp. 56-57). 

Ritual to Prevent Flooding: Offerings are cast into the river to cause 
the water to recede. Paper images: unidentified (Gessain 1938, 
p. 355; 1952-53, p. 205). 

Costumbre para Enamorarse: Love magic rite. Paper images: spirits 
of lovers (Gessain 1938, p. 370). 

Ritual for a New House: Offering made to placate the spirit of a 
newly built house. Paper images: house spirit (Gessain 1938, p. 

Ritual Initiation of a Shaman: Rite of passage for a shaman. Paper 
images: the sun (Gessain 1938, pp. 352ff.; 1952-53, p. 207). 

Costumbre a Santa Rosa: Marijuana ritual held to communicate with 
spirits. Paper image: marijuana (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 215ff.). 

Santorum: Ritual to feed the spirits of ancestors: syncretized with All 
Souls. Paper images: no information (Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 
225-27, 232-35, 285; 1972, pp. 41, 50-53). 

Navidad: Syncretized with Christmas, this celebration includes pro- 
cessions, construction of altars and dancing. Paper images: no in- 
formation (Gessain 1952-53, p. 202; Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 
228-32; 1972, pp. 53-54). 

Ano Nuevo: New Year's. Paper images: no published information 
on the content of this observance (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 244). 

Carnaval: Masked performers dance throughout the village, and the 
Devil is a prominent character; syncretized with the Christian cele- 
bration of Carnival. Paper images: no information (Gessain 1952- 
53, p. 202; Williams Garcia 1963, pp. 244ff., 286; 1972, pp. 54-55). 

Levantada de Cama: Ritual held by midwife to protect a newborn 
baby. Paper images: no information (Gessain, 1938, p. 358; Wil- 
liams Garcia 1963, pp. 140ff.; 1966b; 1967, pp. 302ff.; 1972, p. 47). 

Funeral: Ritual held to prevent return of the dead person's spirit. 
Paper images: no information (Gessain 1938, pp. 359-60; Williams 
Garcia 1963, pp. 222-25; 1972, pp. 48-50). 

Ritual One Week after the Death: Continuation of funeral rite. Paper 
images: spirit of dead person, shaman dancing over cadaver (Ges- 
sain 1938, p. 361). 




The figures in this section represent powerful spirits of a some- 
what more beneficent character. One cannot say that they are 
totally salutary because they do have the power to steal a per- 
son's "soul" and cause sickness and death. However, the Tepe- 
huas look to them for protection and to provide the conditions 
necessary for growing their crops. Also, their role in curing is 
significant, as illustrated in the ritual just described. 

/ o <0 

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n a 


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Figure 160a 
Wilhchaan, Sol, Sun 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 148) 

Figure 160b 
Wilhchaan, Sol, Sun 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 148) 

These two paper images of the Sun are identical except for 
color. The headdress is a burst of sunrays, and a cross is cut 
from the chest. The cross has lost its strictly Christian connota- 
tion among the Tepehuas and now represents the Sun-Christ, 
a fusion of the two traditions. The diamond-shaped cuts are 
apparently clothing decorations. 

These images were collected by Williams Garcia as part of 
a complete set used in the curing of a shaman. In fact the 
image of the sun is cut only for the curing of a ritual specialist. 



While the Sun is all powerful, seated as it is at the center of the 
Gran Mesa on the Golden Hill, the Tepehuas consider it to be 
somewhat remote from daily life. The meaning of the green 
and red colors is not known, but it is likely that they distinguish 
male and female aspects of the Sun. 

Figure 161 

Ishqatlmushu Abilcham, Sol Rojo, 

Red Sun 
Blue on a red background sheet 
Size of the original unknown 
After Gessain (1938, following p. 366) 


<«««« »»»» <«««« »»»» 



This cutting, collected by Gessain over forty-five years ago, is 
cut for a large ceremony held to save the crops from drought. 
The cutout is suspended by a thread tied to a stake in the 
center of an altar. A red sun is believed by the Tepehuas to be 
a sign of intense heat and to pose an extreme danger to the 
fields. At the center of the image is the sun, casting scorching 
rays. All around the sun are images of babies, women, and men 
who have died in the drought. Over the heads of several figures 
are the chevron-shaped crowns of death (see figure 182). Al- 
though the ritual in which this image is used had not been held 
for many years at the time Gessain lived among the Tepehuas, 
Tepehua shamans were still able to cut it. 



Figure 162a 

xapainin, meaning unknown 

23.5 X8cm 
Boiles collection 

Figure 162b 

xapainm, meaning unknown 

23.5 X8cm 
Boiles collection 

The identification of this pair of spirits is uncertain, but we 
have included them because they present an interesting sym- 
bolic contradiction. The headdress has the appearance of a cross 
that is identified with the Sun (Jesus). The bare feet give further 
evidence that the spirit is salutary. However, cuts in the body 
represent ribs, thus linking it to spirits of the dead. The sha- 
man who cut the figure said that this is the most important 
spirit of them all, the one that commands the rest. One likely 
explanation for this apparent contradiction is that the figure 
represents the sun during a period of drought, that is, at a time 
when its heat is a threat to life. 



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A A 



Figure 163a 

XalapanalakatW, Senor de 
la Tierra, Lord of the 
Earth in the guise of 
Santasoma (from the 
Nahuatl Motecuhzoma, 
or Moctezuma) 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 187) 

Figure 163b 

Xalapanalakat'un, Senor de 
la Tierra, Lord of the 
Earth in the guise of 
Santasoma (from the 
Nahuatl Motecuhzoma, 
or Moctezuma) 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 187) 

The Tepehuas share with the Nahuas and Otomis a complex 
view in which the earth is seen simultaneously as a provider 
of food and as a monster that devours the dead. Consequently 
paper images such as those in figures 163a, b are frequently 
cut as part of curing rituals, since the earth contains within 
it the spirits of the dead. They are also cut in rituals held 
to recompense the Spirit of the Earth for the numerous offenses 
committed against it, such as planting crops. Finally they are 
cut for use in rituals when the earth is thought to have stolen 
the patient's life-force. 

The distinctive feature of these images is the comblike head- 
dress, which Williams Garcia identifies as either plants that 
grow on the surface of the earth or, more likely, as the open, 
devouring jaws of the Earth monster. The ambiguous nature 
of the Earth spirit seems to be reflected in the fact that one 
of the pair is depicted wearing shoes (signifying outsider status) 
while the other is not. It appears likely that figure 163b is female 
because of the longer dresslike garment she wears. 

Figure 164 

Xalapanaak Xkan, Senor del Agua, 

Lord of the Water 

Approximately 10X3 cm 
After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 187) 


Figure 164 represents one aspect of the Lord of the Water. The 
Tepehuas conceive of water, like the earth, as a spirit with 
both positive and negative aspects. It makes the crops grow, 
but it also robs "souls," drags people into the water, and 
threatens to flood the world. The following brief myth recorded 
by Williams Garcia reveals the ambiguous nature of water: 
Jesus is old and tired and wants to flood the world. This would 
please the Muchacha del Agua, an aspect of Water, because 
then her underlings, the fish, would rule the earth. The Vir- 
gin Mary, however, stops Jesus from destroying the earth 
(1972, p. 36). 

The headdress on figure 164 is really hair arranged in three 
lobes. The shaman who cut it said that the cut in the center 
of the body is "Tike a little well where water comes out" 
(Williams Garcia 1963, p. 187). 


Figure 165 rj\ 

Xalapanaak Xkan, Senor del Agua, \T <f 

Lord of the Water 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 187) 

/\ A /S 


The version of the Lord of the Water in figure 165 was cut by 



another shaman. The headdress is designed to represent a drop 
of water or a stylized water jar (Indian women carry water 
jars on their heads). The heart and clothing decorations are 
depicted in typical fashion. 

Figure 166 

An aspect of Xalapanak'un, Senor 

del Viento, Lord of the Wind 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 187) 

This cutting depicts Wind in the form of a birdlike figure. 
The headdress is a blowing tuft of hair, and at each side are 
wings. Between the legs is a bird's tail. The shape cut in the 
lower center of the figure is unidentified, but it may represent 
a drop of water or the bud of a growing plant. Wind in its 
positive aspect is identified with the coming of rain and, thus, 
indirectly with growing crops. Williams Garcia sees a corre- 
spondence between this spirit and the Aztec deity Ehecatl- 

Figure 167 

Tstakuni, Estrella, Star 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 1 


The headdress in figure 167 clearly identifies the spirit as a star 



guardian. The black color represents the night, and the two cuts 
probably represent the heart and stomach or genitals. 

Figure 168a 
'Istakuni, Estrella, Star 

23 X 9 cm 
Boiles collection 

Figure 168b 
'Istakuni, Estrella, Star 


23.5 X8.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

The additional star guardians in figures 168a,b, in male and 
female aspect, watch over people during the night when the 
sun is absent. They are cut with hearts, winglike projections 
representing starlight, and clothing decorations. 

Figure 169 

Fuego, Fire 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 190) 





The Tepehuas consider the Spirit of Fire, portrayed as an old 



man, to come from the sky but to be a child of the Earth. 
The small cuts around the head are wrinkles, and the pattern 
in the body represents firewood. This hearth spirit has a long 
history among Middle American Indian cultures. The Aztecs 
propitiated a hearth deity named Huehueteotl (the Old God), 
who also was portrayed as an old man with a wrinkled face. 
About a week following a funeral, the Tepehuas perform a 
ritual that consists of lighting and extinguishing a fire in the 
deceased person's fireplace. The ritual is performed to pay 
back the Earth for the times that the person burned it with 
fire during his lifetime. Failure to perform this ritual may cause 
the children of the dead person to sicken and die (Williams 
Garcia 1963, p. 194). 

Figure 170 

Cruz, Cross 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 




In figure 170 the Spirit of the Cross is cut as a separate figure. 
Just as it is among the Nahuas and Otomis, the cross for the 
Tepehuas has become a sacred object in its own right and is 
thought to possess great power. In addition to its innate power, 
the figure is also cut to represent the Sun-Christ in rituals. 
In its hands the figure holds swords that are shaped like crosses 
and that signify power. The headdress is a straightforward 
symbol for the cross. 





Figure 171 

Cruz-Tierra, Earth-Cross 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 

This paper image represents a combination of the spirits of 
the Earth and the Cross. The Tepehuas occasionally plant a 
large wooden cross in the ground in front of the shrine to sym- 
bolize further the power of these combined spirits. The image 
is cut with an earth spirit headdress, except that the middle 
prong is shaped like a cross. 

Taken as a group, Tepehua beneficial spirits reveal an animistic 
world view similar to that of the Nahuas and Otomfs. Each 
important aspect of nature, such as the earth, water, and sun, 
has its corresponding spirit. Like the Otomis, the Tepehuas also 
cut images of everyday objects like houses and candles. Although 
generalization is difficult because of the lack of comparative 
field data from the region, it appears that the Tepehuas are 
more given to cutting images of major beneficent spirits than 
are the other groups. Images of Earth, Star, Wind, and Water, 
for example, are commonly cut for their rituals. One explana- 
tion for this practice is that even these spirits are believed to 
steal "souls," and thus images of them must be cut for curing 

The cuttings of four shamans are represented in this section. 
We have included two specimens from the Boiles collection 
(figures 168a, b) that were cut by the same shaman whose figures 
are presented in the previous section of disease-causing spirits 


(figures 155-57 and 159). A quick glance at these series reveals 
that the style of the shaman carries over from disease-causing 
spirits to beneficent ones. Five specimens (figures 160a, b, 165- 
67) were cut by another shaman whose images are also pre- 
sented in the previous section (figures 158a, b). Four additional 
images (figures 163a, b, 164, 169) were cut for Williams Garcia 
by a third shaman, and figure 161 was cut for Gessain by a 


Images of seed spirits cut by Tepehua shamans are similar 
to those cut by the Nahuas in that they are restricted in variety, 
and the profile of the fruit or vegetable is cut from the interior 
of the body. These spirits are called Sombras de las Semillas 
(Shadows of the Seeds) or Antiguas (Ancient Ones) by the 
Tepehuas. They are cut by shamans either on top of a special 
hill or on the shore of a sacred lake. Although it is the shaman 
who cuts the paper images, the Tepehuas say that the Water 
Spirit actually gives the seed spirits to the village. The images 
of the seeds are dressed in tiny clothes, including hats and 
shoes, and are brought to the village in wooden boxes. After 
being placed on special altars in the traditional shrine, the 
boxes are attended by four young men and four young women. 
These specially appointed caretakers, along with members of 
the politicoreligious hierarchy in the village, are responsible for 
making periodic offerings to the seeds throughout the year and 
for conducting major crop-increase rituals. Failure to keep 
the seed spirits properly satisfied means that they might escape 
from the boxes and leave the village, resulting in famine (Wil- 
liams Garcia 1963, 202). 


Figure 172 a 
Maiz, Maize (male) 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 189) 

Figure 172b 
Maiz, Maize (female) 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia 
(1963, p. 189) 

The most important single crop for the Tepehuas is maize, 
and these images accordingly play a central role in increase 
rituals. As is so often the case among the Tepehuas, the spirit 
is represented in both male and female form. The male figure 
has a headdress of leaves, an ear of corn cut from its body, 
and roots cut between the legs. The female figure has a head- 
dress of flowers and ears of corn on its chest and sides. The 
heels of its feet are represented as roots. 

Figure 173 

Maiz, Maize 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 214) 

Figure 173 is another version of the Spirit of Maize, also cut 



with the double-tiered headdress of leaves, the ear of corn in 
the body, and the roots emerging from between the legs. This 
image is part of a large bundle of sacred paper cuttings used 
in various religious rituals. Figures 173 and 174 are used to- 
gether to stand for all crops grown by the Tepehuas (Williams 
Garcia 1963, p. 214). 

Figure 174 

Chiltepin, Dios de Chile Rojo, 

Spirit of the Red Chile 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 189) 


The chile pepper is another important crop for the Tepehuas. 
This paper cutting represents the spirit of the small red chile, 
one of the numerous varieties grown. Peppers are cut in the 
headdress and body of the figure, and roots are symbolized 
by the fringe between the legs. Paper images of chile and 
maize are often used together in Tepehua rituals. 

Figure 175 

Platano, Banana 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 189) 

Although the banana plant is of little economic importance 


to most Tepehua families, this image of the banana seed spirit 
is highly significant. The reason given is that the banana is 
closely associated with the Spirit of Thunder and, thus, with 
Water. Williams Garcia was not able to explain why this con- 
nection is made by the Tepehuas, however. According to in- 
formants, the Spirit of Thunder has the same appearance and 
color as the banana (Williams Garcia 1963, p. 196). Although 
this figure has a human face, it is unusual in that it is not 
strictly anthropomorphic. Its main features are the leaves that 
surround the face and the roots that protrude from the base 
of the figure. 

The very small number of Tepehua seed images presented here 
reflects their scarcity in the published literature and in private 
collections. Since ethnographers have been able to collect fairly 
large samples of paper images from the Tepehuas, it is puzzling 
why so few are seeds. A likely answer is that Tepehua shamans 
simply do not cut many seed spirit images. Like their Nahua 
counterparts, they limit their seed images to maize and chile 

Another interesting parallel between the Tepehuas and 
Nahuas is the style of the seed spirits. In general, outlines of the 
crop are cut from the body of the figure. An exception is figure 
174, in which the chile peppers are part of the headdress. 
This style of portrayal contrasts with that of the San Pablito 
Otomfs in which the fruit or vegetable protrudes from the sides 
or head of the figure. The significance of these representational 
differences is not known. 


Like the Nahua and Otomi shamans, Tepehua shamans also 
cut paper images for special purposes. Figures 176-86 have 
been included as a sample of this category of cuttings. 



Figure 176a 

Ixtukuwin, Cera, Candle 

16.5 X5.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

Figure 176b 
Ixtukuwin, Cera, Candle 


16.5 X5.5 cm 
Boiles collection 

Candles are an important component of ritual occasions and are 
used by all ritual specialists in the Huasteca region regardless of 
cultural affiliation. Portrayed here is the Tepehua Spirit of the 
Candle in its male and female aspects. The headdress of each 
figure represents a flame, and the uppermost inverted V cut is 
the heart. Other cuts are pockets or clothing decorations. The 
candle most commonly used in the region is made from locally 
produced beeswax. A second variety is made from tallow and 
is purchased at the market. Each type of candle is associated 
with a different part of the ritual. 

Shamans rub candles over a patient's body to remove harmful 
spirits. Lighted candles are also used to cleanse a house or 
ritual area of harmful spirits. Sacralized candles are often burned 
on the house altar to offer protection or to recall a curing cere- 
mony held several days previously. They are always burned on 
altars during a ritual and in the area where paper figures are 
being cut. In sum, candles are a type of offering, but they also 
serve to mark out an area in which ritual activity is taking 



Figure 177a 

Xtukuwf Lapanak', Espiritu del 

Hombre, Spirit of a Man (male) 
17X6 cm 
Boiles collection 

Figure 177b 

Xtukuwf Lapanak, Espiritu del 

Hombre, Spirit of a Man (female) 
17 X 5 cm 
Boiles collection 


Portrayed in figures 177a, b are the male and female aspects 
of a person's life-force. The figures have no headdresses, and 
each is rendered with a heart and clothing decorations. In 
Tepehua thought a person may temporarily lose his life-force 
by being frightened or by having it captured. Any spirit in 
the Tepehua pantheon may steal it for any number of reasons. 
The victim is in a state of spiritual and physical decline until 
the life-force is returned, usually through the efforts of a 
shaman. Images such as these are often placed on the home altar 
to aid in convalescence. Sorcerers (haxkayandn) are known to 
cut figures like these and to use them in secret ceremonies to 
cause harm. 

Figure 178 

Lakatuhun Hatupas Diqalh, Tiene Siete 
Pensamientos, She Has Seven Thoughts, 
Sacred Rose (Saint Rose of Lima?), Marijuana 


17X5.5 cm 

Boiles collection 

This rather plain figure represents a powerful spirit that can 
steal a person's soul or put him in contact with the spirit world. 
As among the Nahuas and Otomis, Santa Rosa is the Tepehuas' 
name for marijuana. In some villages it is eaten or mixed with 
aguardiente and drunk as a way of establishing communication 
with spirits. Ceremonial use of the plant is under the strict 
control of a shaman who insures that people use it with care. 
The Tepehuas say that Santa Rosa "is living, she is above all 
a piece of the heart of god" or that she is the "flower of god" 
(Williams Garcia 1963, p. 221). 

A paper image such as this one is cut during marijuana 
rituals. The meanings of the seven-pronged headdress and the 
name "She has Seven Thoughts" are uncertain (see Boiles 1967, 
pp. 269-70). Among the Nahuas and Otomis the spirit is as- 
sociated with water but, according to Williams Garcia, the 
Tepehuas apparently associate it with the earth (1963, pp. 
215ff.; 1975). 

Figure 179 

Mufieco para enamorarse, "image to 

make someone fall in love" 

Size of original unknown 
After Gessain (1938, following p. 370) 




Like the Nahuas and Otomi's, the Tepehuas have developed 
magical means to make someone fall in love. Figure 179 is a 
large paper cutout used by wives to make their husbands lose 
interest in all other women and to prevent them from becoming 
jealous. In the center is a circle of female figures standing 
over reclining male figures. The images symbolize the domi- 
nance of the wife over her husband. The paper is folded and 
placed under the husband's sleeping mat (Gessain 1938, p. 370). 

Figure 180 

Muneco para enamorarse, "image to 

make someone fall in love" 
Color and size of original 

After Gessain (1938, following p. 370) 

This figure is cut by the shaman to use in a ceremony that 
magically keeps a husband from falling in love with someone 
else. The double image of the husband illustrated here is folded 
together with a similar image of the jealous wife. They are 
then slipped under the husband's sleeping mat. If the magic 
works, the husband will lose interest in all other women, and 
he will remain faithful to his wife (Gessain 1938, p. 370). 

Figure 181 

Muneco para enamorarse, "image 

to make someone fall in love' 
Color and size of original 

After Gessain (1938, following 

p. 370) 

^F^J<] ts^^^J £s f>> ^<? 0*^"-"^ 

r^-^3 c ^-fy-^ N-^-vsa p^-^ 

A variation of figure 179, this cutout is used by wives to ensure 



the fidelity of their husbands. It is also used to prevent the hus- 
band's striking the wife or becoming jealous. The female figures 
are doubled in number and size to increase the wife's influence 
over the husband, who lies beneath her feet. The image is 
hidden in the house by the woman so that her husband does 
not see it (Gessain 1938, p. 370). 

Figure 182 

Is/i pukuka maqan kan alasani\ u to go 

and get rid of the dead" 

Size of original unknown 
After Gessain (1938, following p. 368) 

Tepehua shamans cut figure 182 as part of a ceremony held 
one week after a death. The object of the ritual is to prevent 
the deceased's spirit from returning and causing harm. In this 
cutout the shaman is shown dancing over skeleton images repre- 
senting the dead "soul." The image symbolically represents the 
dominance of the shaman over the dead. The small chevrons 
over each skeleton are the "crowns of death." Twelve of these 
images are cut for the death of a woman, 24 for a man, and 
100 for a shaman. After the ritual the images are placed under 
a rock at the bottom of a river (Gessain 1963, p. 369). 

Figure 183 

Shaman with copal incense 

brazier on his head 
Color and size of original 

After Gessain (1938, following p. 366) 



This figure is cut as part of a ceremony to prevent epidemics 
from entering the village. During the ceremony the shaman per- 
forms a dance wearing a circular paper headdress called the 
"crown of the sorcerer" while simultaneously balancing a brazier 
on his head. After the ceremony a paper image is cut depicting 
the shaman with the brazier on his head. The figure is placed 
along with paper images of guardian stars on the trails leading 
to the village. Any epidemic diseases trying to enter the village 
will be turned away by the sacralized paper images (Gessain 
1938, p. 368). 

Figure 184 

Shaman dancing on the head 

of a devil 
Color and size of original 

After Gessain (1938, following p. 366) 

This figure is cut by Tepehua shamans to prevent the spread 
of epidemic diseases. The figure is hung over the doorway of 
each house to prevent the disease from entering. It represents 
the spirit of a shaman dancing on the head of a devil or, in 
other words, the conquest of disease (Gessain 1938, pp. 367-68). 



Figure 185 

Casa, House 


Approximately 10 X 3 cm 

After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 190) 



For all Indian groups in the region the house has a kind of 
spiritual presence. This paper image of the House spirit is 
depicted with support beams cut out of the body. When a 
dwelling is built, certain ritual procedures are always followed 
to prevent the House spirit from becoming angry. If the proper 
offerings are made, the spirit will protect household members 
from harm. Like virtually all spirits, the House spirit has both 
beneficial and harmful sides. If disease spreads within a family 
or if a patient does not respond to treatment, the shaman often 
cuts a figure similar to the House Spirit and makes offerings 
to it. 


Figure 186 

Lakachinchin, Sun Place or 

House of Antiguas (Ancient Ones) 

Approximately 10 X 3 cm 
After Williams Garcia (1963, p. 188) 

Figure 186 depicts the Spirit of the Shrine in which traditional 
rituals are held. The headdress is cut in the image of a pyramid 



that represents the Golden Hill — the residence of the Sun, the 
Stars, and the other important spirits in the Tepehua pantheon. 
What is remarkable about this figure is its similarity to the 
pyramids built by the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Middle 
America as shrines to the various deities. Roofed structures 
built on top of them housed images of the deities. They were, 
in short, like Tepehua "Golden Hills," the residences of the 
spirits. Tepehua shamans unknowingly recall these ancient 
monuments in their contemporary paper images. The syncretic 
nature of Tepehua religion is clearly illustrated in this paper 
figure. The Golden Hill is the image of a pre-Hispanic pyra- 
mid, and on the Golden Hill reside the Sun-Christ and his 
entourage seated around a table, a re-creation of the Last Supper. 
Tepehua shamans use this paper image during rituals held in 
the village shrine when they want to symbolize all of the spirits 
who occupy the Golden Hill. 

We have enough information on Tepehua religion to be able 
to demonstrate remarkable similarities to the Nahua and Otomi 
religions. As with the other groups, the Tepehuas have a multi- 
plicity of spirits. In fact it seems that the list of manifestations 
and alter egos of any single spirit could be expanded almost 
indefinitely. For example, rain is thought to be caused by the 
Water Spirit, the Old Ones, San Juan, the female Water Bearers, 
the male Siren, Jesus, Thunder, and so on. These are separate 
spirits in a sense, and yet they are tied together in the myth 
system. To this paradoxical aspect of the costumbre complex 
is added the apparent contradictory roles of some of the spirits. 
For example, Jesus is identified with the Sun and at the same 
time with San Juan, the "Negro" who lives in the sea and who 
sends rain. The Sun is a protector spirit, and yet Jesus threatens 
to flood the world because he is bored with it. Only the Virgin 
Mary stops this primary Tepehua guardian spirit from destroy- 
ing the earth. 

The levels of apparent contradictions multiply when the 
beneficial spirits are examined. The Earth, Sun, and Water 
conjoin to produce Maize, which sustains the Tepehuas. These 


major spirits are thought to underly all of life, and they are 
the subjects of numerous offerings to repay their bounty. 
Yet they are precisely those spirits most likely to steal a per- 
son's "soul," causing sickness and possibly death. Difficulties in 
categorizing Tepehua spirits result partly from the lack of in- 
formation on their cosmology. It is, however, apparent from 
what we do know that they share with the Nahuas and Otomis 
a degree of ambiguity and amorphousness in how their pantheon 
is organized. These problems in understanding the larger pic- 
ture of the costumbre system are discussed in the concluding 

Stylistically it appears that Tepehua paper images are easily 
distinguishable from those cut by the Nahuas and Otomis. 
Until more research is conducted in the region, however, we 
cannot tell if these distinctions represent real differences in 
style or if they are simply an artifact of the sample of specimens 
we have available for study. As indicated above, differences 
exist in how shamans portray spirits. Shamans in a given area, 
however, seem to have certain limits to how innovative they 
can be. The most unusual cuttings compared to the bulk pre- 
sented in this chapter are those collected by Gessain. What 
would be called altar mats among the Nahuas and Otomis 
serve here as individual images. The more naturalistic, curvi- 
linear appearance of some of these cuttings may be because 
all of them represent the spirits of human beings rather than 
spirit entities. 



If the red slayer think he slays, 

Or if the slain think he is slain, 
They know not well the subtle ways 

I keep, and pass, and turn again. 

Far or forgot to me is near; 

Shadow and sunlight are the same; 
The vanished gods to me appear; 

And one to me are shame and fame. 

They reckon ill who leave me out; 

When me they fly, I am the wings; 
I am the doubter and the doubt, 

And I the hymn the Brahmin sings. 

The strong gods pine for my abode, 

And pine in vain the sacred Seven; 
But thou, meek lover of the good! 

Find me and turn thy back on heaven. 

— "Brahma," by Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Emerson's well-known poem about the principle of unity that 
underlies many Eastern religions offers a profound insight into 
the nature of the religious systems discussed in this work. To 
the first travelers and ethnographers who entered the region 
of papermaking, Indian religious beliefs and practices appeared 
to be straightforward and as "simple" as the villages in which 
they lived. There was worship of idols and ceremonies to cure 
diseases and to ensure that the crops flourished. Paper images 
cut by Indian shamans were further proof of the "superstitious" 
and simple nature of costumbre religions. As information ac- 



cumulated on the paper images and their rituals, contradictions 
and complications became evident. Spirits appeared in varying, 
sometimes inconsistent guises, and there seemed to be no clear 
hierarchically arranged pantheon of deities. Interestingly, schol- 
ars engaged in analyzing the great pre-Hispanic urban reli- 
gions have faced the same apparent contradictions. Part of the 
problem in both areas of research is the persistent tendency to 
underestimate the sophistication and subtlety of thought that 
characterizes these religious systems. We will return to the con- 
cept of unity after reviewing some initial responses to the cos- 
tumbre complex and after examining in some detail the paper 
images that contribute so much to its character. 

The responses of earlier researchers to Nahua, Otomi, and 
Tepehua religion were a mixture of disdain and condescension. 
Frederick Starr, who reflected the ethnocentric anthropology 
of the nineteenth century, wrote of the papermaking region, 
u There is no better place in all Mexico for study of super- 
stition than this district of mingled population" (Starr 1901, 
p. 80). The disparaging remarks of Dard Hunter and V. W. 
Von Hagen are on record (see chapter 1), and Bodil Christen- 
sen, who was generally sympathetic to the Indians, still wrote 
about them as living "in a world full of spirits," a statement 
implying a childlike fatalism they do not possess (Christensen 
1971, p. 26). Hans Lenz titles his chapter on the contemporary 
uses of paper U E1 papel y las supersticiones" (Paper and Super- 
stitions), and he states that u in many regions it was not possible 
to eliminate all of the vestiges of idolatry that even now exist in 
the aboriginal mentality" (Lenz 1973 [1948], p. 120). l As late 
as 1969, Leonardo Manrique referred to the religion practiced 
in San Pablito as "paganism" (1969, p. 715; see chapter 5), 
a term with negative connotations usually rejected by anthro- 

Modern ethnographers who have worked in the area generally 
avoid ethnocentric judgments, but they do express a degree of 
perplexity over the apparent lack of structure in the religious 
systems. Information gathered from one native informant is in- 
variably contradicted by another. An added problem is the ad- 


mixture of Christian and pre-Hispanic beliefs among the In- 
dians, giving outsiders the impression of an incompatible me- 
lange of traditions. 

Four major reasons can be given for the evident confusion. 
First, the Mexican Indians have been the victims of one of the 
most brutal colonial policies in history, and they have, by ne- 
cessity, developed means of hiding traditional beliefs behind a 
facade of Christian trappings. Second, in level of sociocultural 
integration, these are peasant or perhaps tribal societies that 
do not have full-time theologians to systematize all elements of 
their religious systems. Third, there is an extreme particularism 
in the region such that differences in ritual performance and 
religious belief occur not only between villages but also among 
groups within a single village. Finally, much of the research 
in the region has been conducted in Spanish, which is a second 
language for the Indians and is thus inadequate for eliciting 
information on complicated philosophical or cosmological ques- 
tions. Each of these reasons has validity, and, taken together, 
they help explain the difficulties that ethnographers face in 
understanding the costumbre complex. One additional reason, 
rarely mentioned by ethnographers, is that the religions of this 
region are indeed highly sophisticated and are not, therefore, 
amenable to simplistic analyses. 


Up to this point we have been talking about the Nahua, Otomi, 
and Tepehua religions as though they are separate, each stand- 
ing on its own. Each religious system is discussed in its own 
chapter. The ethnographic research on these three groups has 
not produced totally comparable religious data to date. Even 
with the available information, however, the casual reader can- 
not help but notice the remarkable similarities among the three. 
A comparison of tables 2, 5, and 7 reveals striking correspon- 
dences in the three pantheons. Each group has developed an 
important celestial spirit complex involving the stars, Moon, 
fire, Christian saints, the Virgin Mary, and especially the Sun, 


which has been syncretized with Jesus Christ. In the beliefs 
of each group, the stars protect people while the Sun is ab- 
sent, and the Moon is either ambivalent or negative in its 
effect on human beings. The fire spirit, also associated with the 
sky, lives in the stones surrounding the family hearth and pro- 
tects household members from harm. In addition each culture 
views the earth as a complex entity with multiple manifesta- 
tions of a positive and negative character. The earth is con- 
ceived as a living being whose fertility makes the crops grow. 
Life-giving seed and rain spirits live in earthly caves, but at 
the same time it is the earth that devours bodies of the dead. 
Even the names of important earth-related spirits such as the 
Antiguas or Moctezuma are shared among the three groups. 
Other names, such as Lord of the Mountain and Mother Earth, 
are shared by at least two groups, and it is possible they will 
be shown to exist in the third when more information be- 
comes available. 

Each group has an underworld in which the spirits of the 
dead and the malos aires reside, ruled by malevolent spirits 
associated, at least in name, with the Christian Devil. The 
malos aires are polluting agents associated with the wind that 
cause disease and misfortune. Shamans from each culture en- 
deavor to control the malos aires through rituals termed cleans- 
ings. In addition each group propitiates a complex of water 
spirits including the Lady of the Water. Water spirits are am- 
bivalent in that they provide water and rain but also drown 
people and demand offerings. Finally all three groups conceive 
of intermediary spirits that act as messengers between the hu- 
man and spirit realms. The Nahuas have their witnesses, the 
Otomis their mountain spirits, and the Tepehuas the divine 
ritual specialists on the Golden Hill. Similarities extend to the 
residences of their spirits: the hills, caves, and lakes that are 
visited by processions bearing offerings. It is possible that many 
apparent differences among the three cultures, such as the 
Tepehua association of Santa Rosa with the earth rather than 
water, are the result of mistakes made by ethnographers or 
their informants. 


Further similarities emerge when we examine the concept of 
"spirit" or "soul" among the three groups. It is clear from the 
brief summaries we have presented that the Indian conceptions 
are intricate and probably not fully understood by most out- 
siders. The concept of spirit or soul is always one of the most 
difficult to translate from one culture to another. In fact, even 
in our own society people are not in agreement about the 
nature of either spirit or soul. The Nahuas have the noyolo 
and notorial, both of which appear to mean "life-force." We have 
not been able to clarify the differences between these concepts 
among the Nahuas of the region despite our numerous attempts 
while in the field. The Otomis have at least two terms, zaki 
and na xudi, which mean "life-force" and "shadow," respectively. 
For the Tepehuas, the term tukuwin has been reported and 
translated as "shadow." The nagual, which some scholars identify 
as a type of soul (see, for example, Adams and Rubel 1967, 
p. 336) is instead considered to be a transforming sorcerer. 
The spirits listed in tables 2, 5, and 7 and their paper images 
are really animating principles or forces rather than incorporeal 
beings — ethereal shadows of energy possessed by both human 
beings and other aspects of existence. They are abstractions 
that become specific spirits during rituals or when they are cut 
from paper, but which generally remain amorphous in day-to- 
day life. As will be seen, it is this generalized concept of spirit 
or shadow shared by all three groups that lies behind the mul- 
tiple manifestations of specific spirit entities. 

The four rituals we describe also reveal remarkable simi- 
larities among Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua religious practices. 
Undoubtedly the most obvious correspondence is in the way 
paper images are used to depict the various spirits. In addition 
there are the shared ritual elements, which are discussed in the 
analyses following each description, and the shared sequences 
of ritual episodes (cleansings followed by offerings to major 
spirits). Besides common overall ritual strategy, the groups also 
share specific procedures and props. These include copal in- 
cense, candles, aguardiente, sacred guitar and violin music, to- 
bacco, burying of live fowl for the earth, bloody animal sacri- 


fice, palm and marigold adornments, sacred cabinets contain- 
ing dressed paper images of seed spirits, and many others. But 
the real test of compatibility of belief among the three groups 
is that they are willing to accept each others' shamans to per- 
form rituals. 

Similarities extend to Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua ritual 
calendars. For the most part the three groups have taken over 
the Christian liturgical calendar (see chapter 3). They have 
added many saints' days to their lists of celebrations. Even ob- 
servances that clearly have a pre-Hispanic base, such as All 
Souls and Carnival, are syncretized with the Christian cele- 
bration of similar character. The more strictly traditional rituals 
are less tied to the calendar. All groups have planting and 
harvest rituals involving seed spirits sometime in early spring 
and early fall respectively. The other traditional rituals vary as 
to when they are held or are linked to specific "crisis" situ- 
ations, such as completion of a house, birth, disease, or death. 

We wish to note similarities among the three groups, but do 
not mean to assert that they are identical. Throughout the 
previous chapters we have discussed differences in ritual per- 
formance and religious belief as well as correspondences. The 
differences, however, remain unpatterned, and it is impossible, 
with the available information to classify traits according to 
whether they are strictly Nahua, Otomi, or Tepehua. The 
Nahuas among whom we worked did not appear to identify 
with other Nahua villages particularly, except to note that 
they spoke the same language. They hold stereotypes of the 
Otomis and Tepehuas, but they hold similar stereotypes of 
Nahuas in other villages. This lack of clearly stated ethnic 
identity has led one researcher to ask whether or not there 
exists a distinct Otomi culture at all (see Galinier 1977). Of 
course a clear distinction is made by everyone in the area be- 
tween their local Indian culture and mestizo culture, but the 
question remains as to the degrees of similarities and differ- 
ences among the local Indian groups. 

We suggest that the religious systems of the three groups 
are quite similar for three major reasons. For one thing the 


Indians do not live in isolated enclaves; Nahua, Otomi, and 
Tepehua villages are found in the same area. Starr noticed 
this fact when he wrote: "Where the states of Hidalgo, Puebla, 
and Veracruz come together we find the strangest intermin- 
glings. There Aztecs, Otomis, Tepehuas, and Totonacs are sur- 
prisingly sprinkled" (Starr 1901, p. 79). As reported earlier 
this is the core region in which the costumbre complex sur- 
vives. A second reason is that this particular area of Mexico 
has suffered devastating upheavals in pre-Hispanic as well as 
colonial times. The Aztecs invaded the region several times 
and Spanish colonial policies were particularly harsh in and 
around the Huasteca. Slavery, disease, forced migration, and 
outright murder reduced the population by as much as 90 
percent within a few years of the Spanish Conquest, and the 
survivors must have experienced a high amount of stress (see 
chapter 3). In the process of reconstituting their cultures, the 
Indians undoubtedly borrowed heavily from one another. Fi- 
nally, all three contemporary Indian groups are heirs to a com- 
mon Mesoamerican cultural tradition that was and still is in- 
fluential in virtually every society throughout the region. 


The pre-Hispanic basis of the beliefs and practices of contem- 
porary Indians must be proven and not assumed. Some eth- 
nographers have a tendency to make uncritical connections be- 
tween pre-Hispanic and modern beliefs. For example, contem- 
porary water spirits are presumed to be modern versions of the 
Aztec Tlaloc, or a spirit that rules in the underworld is automati- 
cally equated with the Aztec Mictlantecutli. These individual 
connections may or may not be valid. Often the modern village 
spirit differs markedly in character from what is known of its 
ancient Aztec counterpart. To demonstrate an historical link 
between the ancient civilizations and modern Indians, whole 
patterns of symbols and spirit types must be shown to be simi- 
lar or identical. Attempts to achieve this include Reyes Garcia 
(1960, pp. 39-40), who shows some correspondences between 


the ancient Aztec and modern Nahua ritual calendars; and 
Monnich (1976), who lists over twenty-five specific correspon- 
dences between ancient Aztec and modern Nahua religious 
beliefs and folk tales. Because of the similarities among Nahuas, 
Otomis, and Tepehuas, many of these Aztec-Nahua correspon- 
dences apply to the latter two groups as well. Recent work 
by the late Eva Hunt, however, provides a general framework 
for the comparison of pre-Hispanic and contemporary Indian 
sacred symbol systems. 

Hunt argues that pre-Hispanic religion was virtually identi- 
cal all over Mesoamerica: 

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the whole of Mesoamerica 
shared a distinct religion, unique in its basic armature and gross 
cryptographic detail. The dominant divine images, the calendar, 
the ritual cycles, the iconographic materials from which the deities 
were made up and identified, the myths of their origins, travels, 
doings, and powers, were pan-Mesoamerican. [Hunt 1977, p. 46] 

She isolates forty-five coded taxonomies or classes of symbols 
out of which pre-Hispanic deities were created. These symbol 
classes constituted the raw material from which clusters of sym- 
bols were formed. "Each [pre-Hispanic] deity was defined by 
one of these unique clusters of cross-class, cross-taxonomy sym- 
bols" (Hunt 1977, p. 54). But the process of creating deities 
from this reservoir of symbols was continuous, so that by the 
time of the Conquest each had multiple identities, alter egos, 
or manifestations. It follows that if the religious systems of the 
modern Indians are pre-Hispanic in nature, they too should 
contain spirits formed from these common symbol classes. 

Table 9 itemizes the pre-Hispanic symbol classes discussed 
by Hunt so that they can be compared with the symbol classes 
among modern Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas. (Explanations 
of the symbol classes and specific examples of the symbols 
derived from each culture are contained in the Appendix.) A 
plus sign ( + ) under the group name indicates that the symbol 
class listed on the left has been reported in the modern re- 
ligion. A question mark (?) indicates not absence but a lack of 
conclusive ethnographic data on that particular symbol class. 



table 9. Symbol Classes of Contemporary Nahua, Otomi, and Tepe- 
hua Indians Compared with Symbol Classes of Pre-Hispanic Meso- 
american Indians 

Pre-Hispanic Symbol Classes* 




Animal Taxonomies 

1. Volatiles 




2. Crawlers and swimmers 




3. Four-legged walkers 




4. Mankind 




Symbolic Plant Taxonomies 

1. Domestic plants 




2. Powerful plants and plant parts 




3. Flowers 




4. Trees and bushes 




Corporeal Taxonomies or Classes 

1. Sex 




2. Stages of growth and ages of man 




3. Parts of the body 




4. Sickness 




Natural Phenomena— The Elements 

1. Winds 




2. Falling water 




3. Surface water 




4. Fire 




5. The Earth 




6. Geographic aspects of the earth 




Celestial Bodies 

1. The sun 




2. The inner planets 




3. The moon 




4. Venus 




5. Mercury 




6. The outer planets 




7. Mars 




8. Jupiter and Saturn 




9. The stars and constellations 




The Visible Spectrum 








Cultural Orders— Material Culture 

1. Tools and weapons 





table 9. Continued 

2. Household equipment and furniture 

3. Clothing 





4. Face-painting and masks 
Social Structure and Stratification 
1. Professions 




2. Food as a marker of social status 




3. Historical culture heroes 




4. Ethnic groups 


Names and Language Transformations 














Mathematical Orders 








Space-Time Continuum 

1. Geometric designs 

2. Numerology and signs 
Human Settlements and Numerology 







'Categories after Hunt (1977). 

Half of the question marks appear under the heading "Celestial 
Bodies," and this is obviously an area where we lack substan- 
tive information on the contemporary cultures. It is possible 
that complex astronomical observations and numerology, both 
of which were prominent in the pre-Hispanic religion, have 
not survived among modern villagers. Fully two-thirds of Hunt's 
pre-Hispanic symbol classes are present in the modern religions, 
however, which clearly suggests an historical connection be- 
tween contemporary and pre-Hispanic religions. 

The paper images themselves are a means of expressing these 
symbols and thus are a part of the greater Mesoamerican pre- 
Hispanic pattern. However, as mentioned, we have only in- 
direct evidence that paper images of spirits were actually cut 
before the Conquest. Fitl conducted a detailed examination of 
several of the codices and found images of vegetative deities 
that bear a remarkable resemblance to the seed images of mod- 
ern Indians (1975, pp. 21 Off.). In several of the codex paint- 


ings, for example, plant parts emerge from the figures' heads 
and sides. This suggests that the design of the contemporary 
seed images traces to the pre-Hispanic period. In another study 
Klein examined all of the known examples of pre-Hispanic 
two-dimensional art in which the figure is front-faced. This 
form of representation is rare, and Klein wished to determine 
whether or not there is a symbolic basis for it. She finds that 
frontally portrayed figures are associated with western, south- 
ern, or central world directions; the female earth; fertility; 
death; and darkness, which stand for completed spatiotemporal 
cycles (1976, pp. 257-58). She concludes that "frontality itself 
therefore had an inherent meaning and function distinct from 
that of the [more common] profile form" (1976, p. 258). Since 
the overwhelming majority of paper images are en face and re- 
late to one or more of these pre-Hispanic categories, it seems 
likely that frontality is another design feature carried over from 
pre-Hispanic times. 


The modern paper images are ritual objects, but they are also 
works of art that reflect something of the world view and aes- 
thetic principles of the cultures in which they are created. 
Individual images are judged by shaman and layman alike 
according to how well they are cut and whether they properly 
incorporate the religious symbols. No shaman can establish a 
positive reputation without first becoming a master paper cutter. 
But perhaps more important, the paper images represent an 
attempt to express the deepest concerns and most complex 
philosophical and theological concepts of a culture in an aes- 
thetic manner. The paper images are intellectual achievements 
because they are visual images of what people think about 
nature and humanity's place within it. The images break the 
flow of consciousness and events into analytical units such as 
sun, earth, water, seeds, germination, growth, love, lust, jealousy, 
disease, and death. These are symbolically depicted in paper 
and laid out in an organized pattern during rituals so that they 
form a meaningful whole. The paper images are strikingly 


dramatic aesthetic forms that work in rituals and work as art 
because they express the world view of the people who pro- 
duce them. 

The Indian shaman-artist must strike a balance between 
repetition and innovation. Shamans learn to cut paper during 
their apprenticeships and are inclined to repeat the form taught 
by the master. But each shaman must establish his or her own 
style in order to attract a clientele. One way to do this is to 
cut the paper images a little differently from everyone else. 
Shamans thus become ritual entrepreneurs who innovate to 
survive. This explains much of the variation in the portrayal 
of spirits exhibited throughout the culture area. If they want 
to be successful, however, shamans are not free to create at 
will. They are constrained by the expectations of the people 
they serve and by the logical requirements of the philosophical 
and theological system in which they operate. 

These factors have led to the development of regional sub- 
traditions in paper cutting. A renowned shaman, for example, 
may train a dozen neophytes during his lifetime who then 
carry on variations of his particular style of cutting. The vil- 
lagers in the area soon become habituated to the new style, 
and over time a regional variation emerges. Evidence suggests 
that these subtraditions cover large areas and that they cross 
cultural boundaries. Thus the particular location of a village 
may be as important in understanding its paper images as the 
cultural affiliation of the people. Images collected among Otomi's 
(figures 150-53) and Tepehuas (figures 160, 163-65, 167, 169- 
71, 178, 185-86) of northern Veracruz, for example, are closer 
in form to some Nahua images from the same area (figures 
38-47) than they are to Otomi and Tepehua images from some 
distance away (for example, Otomi figures 60-149 and Tepehua 
figures 161, 179-84). Additional systematic collection of paper 
images will make possible a description of the various paper- 
cutting subtraditions, as well as the determination of their 
genealogical relationships to one another. 

Several stylistic features of the paper images are shared widely 
throughout the culture area. As the catalog demonstrates, most 


of the spirits portrayed are anthropomorphic and have the 
characteristic front-faced stance with the hands raised by the 
sides of the head. The Otomi's of San Pablito, however, typically 
portray disease-causing spirits (judios) with two heads in profile, 
looking left and right, and, in most instances, sharing a common 
front-faced body. All forms are bilaterally symmetrical, although 
some of the altar adornments cut by all three groups exhibit 
radial symmetry as well. These characteristics are related to the 
fact that the paper is always folded before being cut. The faces, 
for the most part, are similar from culture to culture. With the 
exception of the judios cut by the San Pablito Otomis, the spirits 
are portrayed with benign expressions that reveal little of their 
characters. Most figures are cut with small diamond-shaped 
eyes and either a triangular- or a diamond-shaped mouth. 
These shapes are formed when the flap of paper in the aperture 
is either folded back, creating a triangle, or entirely cut out, 
forming a diamond. Sometimes the eyes and mouth are formed 
by cutting a V-shaped slash, without folding back the flap, 
giving the spirit the appearance of being asleep. The Otomi 
judios, by contrast, have hideous expressions that communicate 
their dangerous characters. Except for these figures cut in pro- 
file, none of the images is depicted with a nose. Ears also do 
not generally seem an important anatomical feature since only 
Otomi seed spirits are cut with them. 

The head shape of the paper images is an important feature 
shared throughout the culture area. Once again with the ex- 
ception of the Otomis of San Pablito, heads are portrayed 
either as circular or, more commonly, as rounded, with the 
top of the head approaching a point. Cutting the heads in this 
way gives the paper images an otherworldly appearance and 
serves to emphasize the nonhuman character of the spirits. 
Also, the head shape possibly may be a survival, in artistic 
representation, of the pre-Hispanic practice of occipital cranial 
skull deformation. In this practice the skull was artificially flat- 
tened by strapping small boards to the front and back of a 
baby's head. The result was a characteristic shape similar to 
that seen in the paper images. Among the San Pablito Otomis, 


head shape is somewhat more naturalistic. The judios are cut 
with more humanlike heads, although facial features are grossly 
exaggerated and have a threatening appearance. Seed spirits 
in San Pablito are cut with a bulging cranium that is con- 
stricted above the ears. This gives them a babylike appearance 
that we feel may relate symbolically to the fact that seeds are 
considered children of more powerful spirits. 

Probably the most critical feature of any paper image is its 
headdress. In pre-Hispanic times headgear and hair style were 
important symbols of a person's rank in society, and now the 
headdress of each paper image is an important identification 
marker. A common head ornament is a crown composed of 
three or more prongs — sometimes so many that the crown re- 
sembles a tuft of hair. In fact when Frederick Starr first saw 
paper images he described them as having hair on their heads 
(see chapter 1). In some cases the crowns are multitiered, while 
in others they have a rakelike appearance. Harmful spirits may 
wear hats or headdresses made of animal horns or the crescent 
moon. Seed spirits often have a crown that includes an image 
of the ripened crop they represent; sometimes this is a repre- 
sentation of a bud or flower, signifying the growing plant. 
These vegetative headdresses are among the most elaborate 
features of all the paper images. The San Pablito Otomfs some- 
times include small spirit helpers in the headdress, and the 
Tepehuas use a chevron-shaped crown to signify that the image 
is associated with death. In general the dangerous spirits tend 
to have spiky or hornlike headdresses. 

Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua shamans share additional aes- 
thetic and symbolic conventions. All of the anthropomorphic 
images are portrayed wearing clothes, although some, concur- 
rently, have a small V cut representing the spirit's genitals. 
The portrayal of genitals is an interesting feature Klein also 
found in pre-Hispanic frontally portrayed figures (Klein 1976, 
p. 242). Even the male and female figures placed together in 
a lovemaking position for love magic are fully clothed. Often, 
in fact, great attention is paid to making cuts in the paper to 
represent pockets or clothing decorations. Another shared char- 


acteristic of paper images is that even among the less elaborate 
examples great attention is always paid to certain details. For 
example, all images are cut with fingers and toes; frequently 
five digits can be counted. When images are portrayed with 
shoes or boots, these too are usually clearly indicated. In most 
of the seed-spirit images care is taken to portray the roots of 
the plant. If a root crop is depicted, the San Pablito Otomis 
sometimes even show the vegetable protruding from the figure's 
feet. Finally, in all seed images great care is taken to represent 
in a naturalistic manner the shape of the desired vegetable or 

Although generalizations about the paper images must re- 
main provisional because of the absence of representative col- 
lections, there are some observed differences in portrayal based 
on cultural affiliation. The Nahuas seem to be the only group 
to cut multiple identical images. These are cut in groups of 
four or eight and are typically images of disease-causing spirits. 
In addition only Nahuas cut images side by side like the chains 
of paper dolls made by children in Western European cultures. 
The Nahuas express the powerful character of spirits by dupli- 
cating their images in paper and by highlighting the garments 
they wear. Dangerous spirits are cut wearing suits of hair, 
shells, spines, and so on — a symbolic mode not found among 
the Otomis or Tepehuas. The altar adornments or u tortilla 
napkins" of the Nahuas rely far more on geometric designs 
than do those produced by the Otomis or Tepehuas. These 
latter groups, by contrast, incorporate anthropomorphic and 
theriomorphic motifs to a far greater extent. Finally, Nahua 
shamans, like their Tepehua counterparts, focus on the paper 
image's interior configuration. For example, they portray in- 
ternal organs such as ribs, hearts, genitals, and stomachs. In 
addition Nahua and Tepehua seed spirits are cut so that the 
crops appear as internal organs. 

The Otomis of San Pablito, by contrast, pay very little at- 
tention to the internal parts of paper images. Crops protrude 
from the sides of the figures or sprout from their headdresses. 
Unlike the Nahuas, their portrayal of dangerous spirits is 


graphic and highly descriptive. Thzjudios are cut with machetes 
and malicious faces. Malevolence exudes from these figures far 
more than it does from the Nahua ejecatl spirits with their 
multiple images, benign expressions, and spiny suits of clothes. 
In fact, it is often difficult to distinguish the harmful from the 
salutary spirits among the Nahuas based on the appearance 
of the paper image. The Otomis often associate the spirit class 
of judios with animals and cut their images with animal tails 
and heads. This is not usually the case with the Nahuas and 
Tepehuas, who generally prefer anthropomorphic figures, al- 
though we do have an example of the Tepehuas cutting a bird 
spirit associated with the wind. Similarly, the intermediary 
spirits among the Otomis are portrayed as small birds rather 
than as the anthropomorphic cutouts associated with the Nahuas 
(compare figures 75-80 to figures 27-37). 

In contrast to the Otomi cuttings, Tepehua paper images are 
far less ornate. With the exception of figures 161 and 179-84, 
which were collected in the 1930s, Tepehua cutouts are basi- 
cally rectangular in outline, with symmetrically patterned details 
composed of straight lines of varying lengths. Like the Nahua 
examples, these paper images have somewhat simplified head- 
dresses. Tepehua shamans are unique in the degree to which 
they cut dualistic representations of the spirits. Many of their 
paper figures come in pairs, one image representing the male 
aspect of the spirit and the other representing the female aspect. 
The images collected in the 1930s differ markedly from those 
collected more recently. The earlier figures are highly elaborate 
and consist of curvilineal anthropomorphic forms. While they 
do retain the Tepehua emphasis on dualism, they are stylistically 
distinct from other images in the catalog. They appear so dif- 
ferent that it seems likely they are the conception of a single 

The paper images cut in San Pablito stand apart stylistically 
from those cut among the Nahuas and Tepehuas. In fact the 
San Pablito images differ even from the cuttings of other Otomi 
groups (see figures 149-54). Since the Otomis of San Pablito 
are apparently among the last people to manufacture bark paper, 


it seems logical that the images they produce must also be the 
most ancient. The evidence, however, does not support this 
supposition. More than any other group, the Otomis of San 
Pablito have incorporated elements from Western European 
culture in their cuttings. The judios, for instance, carry machetes, 
often have beards, and wear heavy boots. They have names like 
President of Hell, Lord Devil, and Lord Jew, all of which are 
based on alien concepts. The Otomis of San Pablito also have 
increased the number of seed images cut to include the many 
crops introduced by the Spaniards. For example they cut figures 
of the apple, pineapple, and pomegranate spirits. Certain seed 
images are cut with remarkably elaborate headdresses, far out 
of proportion to the economic importance of the particular 
crop. The most likely explanation for these innovations and for 
the generally more flamboyant style of the San Pablito images 
is that shamans have been influenced by the demands of the 
tourist trade. As the Indians have come into contact with 
outsiders and as they have begun to appreciate which design 
features attract tourists, they have incorporated appropriate 
foreign ideas into their paper cuttings. 

The historical pattern followed by the Otomi craftsmen of 
San Pablito has been repeated in many areas of Mexico. Over 
the past several decades Mexico has developed into an im- 
portant center of tourism, drawing visitors from all over the 
world. Tourists flood local marketplaces and have created a de- 
mand for the " authentic" folk crafts of various Indian groups 
in Mexico. Small-scale village craft industries have been trans- 
formed virtually overnight into profitable businesses. Thus, in 
addition to farming, many Indians are also engaged in pro- 
ducing traditional clothes, pottery, wool blankets, straw sculp- 
tures, yarn paintings, musical instruments, straw hats, sandals, 
and so on. As mentioned in chapter 1, one of the most successful 
new ventures for the Indians has been the production of colorful 
bark-paper paintings by Nahuas of the state of Guerrero. Since 
it was the Otomis of San Pablito who supplied the paper, they 
too were drawn into the burgeoning tourist market. Although 
historical information is lacking, it seems likely that the crea- 


tion of new forms and the elaboration of existing ones accel- 
erated as the paper images began to sell. Thus, one effect of 
the tourist industry has been to revitalize an ancient craft and 
to promote the innovation and creativity that characterize a 
vital, living tradition. 


Anthropologists are not yet able to provide a universal, all- 
encompassing theory to explain the place of religion and ritual 
in culture. Religion is a multidimensional phenomenon that has 
implications for all aspects of human behavior. It must be 
understood on multiple levels, including the psychological, 
sociological, cultural, and ecological. The paper images as key 
elements in Indian religion likewise have broad implications for 
native thought, culture, and social organization. 

In order for people in a society to behave in a coherent 
manner, they must to some extent share a world view that 
assumes a fundamental regularity or predictability of events. 
As previously indicated, all religions select from the biological, 
social, and natural world elements that become metaphors for 
the underlying order of the universe (see the Appendix for a 
list of major symbol classes used by the Indians of Mesoamerica 
based on this type of metaphor). These elements are cloaked in 
sacred mysteries and are revealed during ritual observances. 
They act to focus the minds and center the emotions of the 
ritual participants, and they impress upon each person in the 
strongest way that his shared social life is in harmony with 
the basic hidden structure of the world. Religion in this sense 
is a reflection of what people think is ultimately real and im- 
portant. In this view, then, religious symbols stand for the or- 
ganizing principles of reality and provide people with an ex- 
planation for why things happen the way they do. 

The Nahuas, Otomi's, and Tepehuas have a view of the world 
in which invisible spirits or forces are held responsible for im- 
portant events. Paper images are the tangible representations of 


spirits that can be manipulated by the ritual specialist. They are 
palpable demonstrations of how and why people get sick. The 
pathogens are cut from paper, given offerings, and physically 
removed from the patient. The crucial reproductive power of 
plants is visualized in the paper images of the seeds, which are 
also given periodic offerings. Sun, water, and earth have an im- 
portant place in rituals and are symbolically tied to crop growth. 
Misery and misfortune are explained as products of dangerous 
underworld spirits associated with the dead. The power of 
lovemaking, music, or good and bad people is represented as 
a kind of spiritual force depicted in paper. Even fear, hatred, 
or jealousy are seen as kinds of spirit presences that lead to 
negative consequences. All of these forces and many more make 
an impact on human life, and their portrayal in paper gives 
people an explanation of why they exist and how they operate. 
The paper images are a mnemonic device by which people 
can label aspects of natural and social reality. They represent a 
type of analytical thought, similar to that employed by scien- 
tists, in which complex processes are broken down to their com- 
ponent parts. The fact that the Indians attribute occurrences to 
spirits in no way reduces their ability to use this form of thought 
in a reasonable, rational way. In Western culture, some diseases 
are attributed to bacterial invasion of the body tissue. For the 
Indians, disease is attributed to invasion of the patient's body 
by one or more spirits. Both concepts of disease explain the 
illness and both lead to appropriate remedial action. Although 
quantified information is not available, personal communica- 
tions with a number of field workers strongly indicate that the 
cure rate using traditional procedures among the Indians is 
quite high. Should a child begin to disobey his parents, a 
shaman will be called in to cut an image of the spirit of dis- 
respect. The paper image symbolizes the complex psychosocial 
factors that lead the child to misbehave, and during the ritual 
the image is eliminated. The powerful message carried by the 
paper images in the context of an emotionally charged ritual can 
produce a far more profound effect on people than a verbal 
analysis of the misbehaviour. 


It is precisely this analytical quality of the spirit pantheons 
that allows people of differing degrees of belief to participate 
in the religious rituals. To some people the spirits are as real 
as the paper used to portray them. These people may actively 
support rituals in order to please or placate the spirits. To 
others the spirits and paper images are highly symbolic and have 
no literal existence. Their significance lies not only in the 
processes they represent — processes that underlie all human ex- 
istence—but also in their ability to provide explanations of com- 
plex psychosocial and natural phenomena. The fact is that 
seeds, sun, earth, and water are important elements of nature, 
whether or not people are dependent upon horticulture. Indi- 
viduals are free to participate fully in the highly symbolic 
rituals simply as a kind of celebration of life. 

Ritual specialists cut paper images for the purpose of exer- 
cising influence over the spirits that intrude into human af- 
fairs. Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua religions are pragmatic in 
orientation, and all rituals are held with a definite end in 
mind. This is particularly apparent in rites of increase, cleansing, 
and propitiation. But relations between human desire and the 
spirit world are complex. First, the strategy of obligating spirits 
by making offerings to them is an attempt to influence or per- 
suade the spirits rather than strictly to control them. Second, 
there is a clear idea among the Indians that spirits more or 
less act according to their nature and cause trouble only if they 
are offended by human shortcomings. Thus, while the Indians 
recognize disease-causing spirits as troublesome and on the 
prowl, they believe that the spirits are released in the village 
only when people fight, gossip, show disrespect, or behave 
greedily. Similarly, the earth, water, and seed spirits are 
basically benign entities that withhold crops only when people 
abuse them or fail to compensate them. Even the most danger- 
ous spirits can be mollified by making offerings to them. Thus, 
the role of shaman is as much to reestablish balance or harmony 
between the spirit and human domains as it is mechanically to 
control spirits. A shaman's reputation, however, depends on 
how often the rituals he or she performs achieve their goals. 


A third way of analyzing the paper images is to view them 
as a means of communicating messages to people. As already 
indicated, many of the spirits and concepts represented in paper 
are quite ancient. In a sense the pantheon of spirits is an ac- 
cumulation of knowledge about the world in symbolic form, 
communicated from one generation to the next. Each spirit 
is a bit of information distilled from hundreds or thousands 
of years of human experience. For example, speaking badly 
of others, an action that often has negative consequences in real 
life, is discouraged in the symbolic realm by the belief that gos- 
sip and slander cause spirit attack. The paper images also impart 
crucial attitudes and orientations to people. For example, the 
sun, water, and seeds will provide food so long as a balance is 
maintained and people do not become greedy. The idea of a 
tenuous balance between humans and the forces of nature is of 
critical importance to slash-and-burn horticulturalists. Growing 
crops in the traditional way requires that large sections of land 
be left fallow for long periods in order to regenerate the soil. 
The system works well so long as individual farmers do not try 
to increase production too radically by cutting larger areas of the 
forest or by substantially reducing fallowing time. 

The paper images are also an important communication link 
between segments of contemporary Indian society. When a 
person becomes ill, a curing ritual is held. The shaman portrays 
the pathogenic spirits and then symbolically removes them in 
front of the patient's eyes. Here the message is straightforward: 
identify the cause, destroy it, and the disease will vanish. The 
patient is also receiving an indirect message of support, not 
only from close kin who sponsor the cure, but also from the 
entire community whose traditions provide the means of diag- 
nosing and treating disease. In similar fashion a pregnant woman 
can have her apprehension symbolically portrayed in paper and 
then ritually banished. The powerful, emotionally charged 
rituals communicate to sufferers that the community stands 
behind them and that everything is under control. Community- 
wide increase rituals directed to the seeds, water, and earth 
help to define, clarify, and focus the concerns of villagers. In 


addition the witnessing of offerings spread on images of seeds, 
water sirens, or malevolent earth spirits impresses on people 
the complex interchange between human groups and their 
social and natural environment. Paper images of dead souls pro- 
vide people with information about the relationship between 
the living and the dead. Kin who die become potentially dan- 
gerous spirits that must be controlled and kept at a distance. 
The fact that images of dead souls are given form in paper, 
dealt with, and then destroyed seems to communicate that the 
world is for the living and that people should not become ob- 
sessed with memories of the dead. In sum, paper images can 
transmit information that links the past and present, the indi- 
vidual and community, and family members and deceased kin. 

The use of paper images in rituals distinguishes the traditional 
Indians of the southern Huasteca from non-Indian mestizos in 
the region. Thus, the religious system, although syncretized 
with Christianity, provides the Indians with an aspect of com- 
mon identity. Within particular Indian populations the different 
regional subtraditions of paper cutting represent a basis of some- 
what smaller group identification. Although stylistic subtradi- 
tions cross cultural boundaries in a given region, there is also 
some basis for identifying cutting styles with specific cultures. 
Thus, for example, Nahua Indians from one area can sometimes 
identify Nahua paper images from a different region even 
though the styles may vary considerably. As further anthropo- 
logical research among Indians of this culture area is carried 
out, we will be better able to determine how they accomplish 
this and the degree to which paper images are used as symbols 
of cultural identity. 

In some instances a particular style of paper image becomes 
associated with a political faction in a village, thus serving 
as a symbol of that faction's group identity. The crop fertility 
ritual described in chapter 2 is an excellent case in point. In 
a struggle over land distribution policy, two factions developed 
in the village. Each group was united in its opposition to the 
other, and the most powerful faction began to sponsor rituals 
under the direction of a shaman of another culture. Local 
people even apprenticed themselves to the alien shaman, and 


in a short time both the style of paper images and ritual per- 
formances of the faction became unique in the village. Thus 
the one faction developed a distinctive style of both ritual 
performance and paper images to create solidarity and an esprit 
de corps in its members in opposition to the other faction. 

Another example involves the use of rituals and associated 
paper images to produce cohesion in kinship groups. Often an 
extended family sponsors a seed ritual to increase crops grown 
by its members. Preparations for the ritual unite family mem- 
bers in a goal-directed activity, which undoubtedly produces 
feelings of unity and identification with the group. In some 
cases large extended families even keep a cabinet filled with 
their own private paper images of the seeds. The cabinet be- 
comes a focus of kinship activity and identity. 

All social systems must exercise some degree of control over 
the behavior of their members in order to operate successfully. 
Social control may be achieved in a variety of ways, but the 
religious system of a group often plays an important role. As 
previously implied, there is little idea in this culture area that 
bad behavior will result in punishment in the afterlife. The 
consequences of antisocial behavior are felt immediately, usually 
by the imposition of disease and misfortune. Bad people are 
thought to attract dangerous spirits; therefore, such people 
pose a double threat to the community. First, their behavior— 
whether it is fighting, gossiping, showing lack of respect, or 
engaging in sorcery — is a direct danger to the people around 
them. Second, their behavior attracts dangerous spirits that are 
likely to attack the weaker members of the community, such as 
babies or the aged. Equally antisocial is the behavior that upsets 
the delicate balance between the human community and the 
spirit world. A person who takes water from a spring or wood 
from the forest without making the proper show of respect 
may anger normally beneficent spirits. The importance of 
social control in Nahua, Otomi and Tepehua religious systems 
is reflected in their inventory of paper images. A large number 
of figures portray dangerous spirits associated with bad deeds, 
and each beneficent spirit has a paper image of its wrathful 
alter ego. 



A somewhat deeper level of analysis is possible if we focus on 
design elements of the paper images themselves. Since we cannot 
consistently link specific design elements with specific cultural 
groups, we will treat the costumbre complex of the entire area 
as a single system in the following discussion. Nancy Munn 
(1966) has suggested that culturally standardized visual repre- 
sentations can be analyzed by isolating constituent visual ele- 
ments and then showing how these are assembled into mean- 
ingful images. Thus we can break each paper figure down into 
its design elements and show how the shaman puts these to- 
gether to arrive at the final product. The purpose of this pro- 
cedure is not only to reveal the aesthetic principles of paper 
image design but also to gain insight into the nature of the 
religious system of which the figures are a part. As Munn 
states, ". . . systems of visual representation, like other sorts 
of cultural codes, function as mechanisms for ordering expe- 
rience and segmenting it into manageable categories" (1966, 
p. 936). Analysis of the paper images, then, illuminates some- 
thing of the world view and cosmological principles that underly 
the costumbre complex. 

Each paper image is a combined visual element composed 
of irreducible single visual elements. These elements, whether 
single or in combination, convey meaning to the people in the 
culture. The kinds of visual elements used in the paper images 
are "iconic" in that there is a direct correspondence between 
the visual image and the item represented. An example of a 
single visual element is the fruit or vegetable cut as a part of 
seed spirits. The paper crop in silhouette is an "icon" in that 
it resembles the actual crop in the field. This differs from a 
"symbol," where there is no similarity in appearance between 
the representation and the item represented. An example of an 
icon composed of a combination of elements is the paper image 
of the Spirit of the Chile. The cutout is an assemblage of single 
visual elements including the anthropomorphic figure with a 
head, arms, legs, images of chile peppers, and roots. In this 
case, if any element is left out (with the possible exception of 


the roots), the image would have no meaning. 

The meanings represented by a single visual element or by a 
unitary combination of elements are called a "visual category." 
Categories of meanings represented by a single visual element, 
such as the particular paper fruit or vegetable item, are called 
"elementary categories." Categories of meanings represented by 
a combination of elements, such as the complete, assembled 
paper image of the chile spirit, are called "composite categories." 
For example, the visual element "shoes" is an elementary cate- 
gory that means either "travel," as among the Nahua witness 
spirits, or "outsider," as among the Otomi judios. Which of these 
meanings is actually assigned will be determined by the context 
of other elements of the paper images or by verbal cues given 
by the shaman. The single element has both of these meanings, 
and perhaps more that we are unaware of, and these constitute 
an "elementary category." A paper image of a seed spirit, on 
the other hand, contains many single elements, each contrib- 
uting to the total meaning or meanings, and these together 
constitute a "composite category." 

Munn has studied Australian tribes, and in her analysis she 
notes that the Walbiri of central Australia attribute whole 
ranges of different meanings to individual visual elements. For 
example, the circle stands for "circular path," "waterhole," 
"fruit," "fire," "yam," "tree," "buttocks," and the like (Munn 
1966, pp. 938, 945). She calls meaning ranges of this type "dis- 
continuous" because they include many different classes of 
items. In any specific visual representation, however, only one 
meaning applies at a time. On the other hand, some cultures 
employ largely "continuous" meaning ranges in their visual 
representations. A specific visual element stands for one par- 
ticular thing or class of things and not for a range of different 
things. The paper images appear to be examples of the con- 
tinuous type of meaning range since each visual element has a 
restricted number of meanings. In cases where more than one 
meaning is attached to an element, the images are often of the 
same class or at least closely related. For example, many of the 
seed images are portrayed with branches, leaves, and roots. 


The same visual representation is used for the many different 
species of plants depicted. 

In sum, visual categories are the meanings attached to visual 
representations (icons). The meanings attached to single ele- 
ments are called elementary categories, and the meanings at- 
tached to elements in combination are called composite cate- 
gories. If the range of meanings comprising these categories is 
heterogeneous and covers many different classes of phenomena, 
it is called u discontinuous. ,, If on the other hand, the range of 
meanings is homogeneous, restricted to a single type or class 
of phenomena, it is called ''continuous. " 

Societies tend to employ one or the other type of visual 
representation, although it is not known why one form — con- 
tinuous or discontinuous — is selected over the other. Represen- 
tational systems that are continuous must operate with a larger 
number of elements since the meanings attached to any single 
element are limited. We believe that this analysis helps to ex- 
plain why so many different paper images are cut. For the 
Indians, each iconic element has a restricted meaning range; 
thus many images are needed to portray the variety of spirits 
in the pantheon. If the range of meanings was discontinuous 
among these cultures, one generalized image could have been 
used to stand for all spirits. In the case of seed images, the 
Nahuas as well as the Tepehuas have circumvented the neces- 
sity of cutting a separate figure of each crop. Nahua shamans 
say they cut images of only the most important crops because 
if these do well in the fields, they assume the other crops will 
also prosper. 

The literal way that the shamans represent the spirits gives 
additional insights into this religious complex. Paper images 
share a "core-adjunct" method of composition (Munn 1966, 
p. 943). At the center of each image is a core element: the 
human figure set in its characteristic stance. The only real ex- 
ceptions to this are the Otomi animal companion spirits and the 
bird messengers of the Lord of the Mountain. Even in these 
cases, however, an animal or bird body is simply substituted 
for the human form. Added to the core are a series of iconic 


markers that define the character of the spirit being depicted. 
These markers are called "adjuncts" when they are essential 
parts of the composition of the core and "emblems" when they 
are additions to the core. Examples of adjuncts include crowns, 
clothing, shoes, hair, facial features, fruits and vegetables, and 
hats. Examples of emblems include attached machetes, swords, 
leaf-covered arches, and spirit helpers. 

The core-adjunct method of depiction allows the viewer to 
distinguish individuals in a group of spirits while seeing con- 
tinuity among them at the same time. Adjuncts and emblems 
are contrastive from one image to another, but the common 
core element reveals a structural similarity among almost all 
of the paper images. The anthropomorphic core element is an 
invariable feature of paper images regardless of which shaman 
cut them. Therefore, the core element must reflect something 
important about the way Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas con- 
ceive of their spirits. As Munn asserts, u To the extent that 
the design structure conveys an organization inherent in the 
cosmology, the designs function as visible models that present 
these principles, as it were, directly for inspection" (Munn 
1966, p. 946). We believe that the paper images, and particu- 
larly their common core elements, reveal the organizational 
principle of the Indians' cosmology. Contrary to the impression 
given by the numbers of spirits in the pantheons and the num- 
bers of paper images cut for rituals, this principle is one of 
unity rather than diversity. 


The religions practiced by the people in great cities of ancient 
Mesoamerica as well as in the small rural villages in present- 
day Mexico are neither polytheistic nor monotheistic. Poly- 
theism is based on belief in a number of individual spirits, 
each with a name, personality, range of power, and specific 
domain. Monotheism is based on belief in one individual spirit 
that rules over the universe. Mesoamerican religions were, and 
still are, pantheistic. In this conception the divinity is expressed 


in the workings of the universe as a whole, including the sun, 
the earth, water, growing crops, and human beings. Although 
she was speaking about the pre-Hispanic people, Hunt could 
have been describing modern Indians when she wrote: 

In their view, as in those of all pantheistic cultures, reality, nature, 
and experience were nothing but multiple manifestations of a single 
unity of being. God was both the one and the many. Thus the deities 
were but his multiple personifications, his partial unfoldings into 
perceptible experience. The partition of this experience into dis- 
crete units such as god A or god B is an artifice of iconography 
and analysis, not part of the core conception of the divinity. Since 
the divine reality was multiple, fluid, encompassing the whole, its 
aspects were changing images, dynamic, never frozen, but constantly 
being recreated, redefined. This fluidity was a culturally defined 
mystery of the nature of divinity itself. Therefore, it was expressed 
in the dynamic, ever-changing aspects of the multiple "deities" 
that embodied it. For didactic, artistic, and ritual purposes, how- 
ever, these fluid images were carved in stone, painted into frescoes, 
described in prayer. It is here, at this reduced level of visualiza- 
tion, that the transient images of a sacralized universe became 
"gods," with names attached to them, with anthropomorphic attri- 
butes, and so on. [Hunt 1977, p. 55] 

In pantheism the universe itself is deified, and the spirits in 
a pantheistic religion are nothing more than temporary mani- 
festations of a great unity. The nature of the unity is such that 
everything is related, and what appears to be separate and even 
opposite is actually the same thing. It is this quality of inter- 
relatedness that Emerson captures in the poem that introduces 
this chapter. By assuming that the costumbre complex is poly- 
theistic and that the paper images are pictures of multitudes 
of living spirits, early ethnographers have seriously underrated 
the sophistication and subtlety of this religion. The view that 
Indian beliefs are polytheistic has also created much of the 
confusion that plagues our understanding of their religious 
concepts. The earth, for example, is not a unitary spirit that 
makes crops grow; rather it is an aspect of a deified universe 
that is connected to everything else and that contains within it 


all of the complexity and contradictions of the universe at large. 

The earth exists in unity with everything else, but it tempo- 
rarily becomes a separate spirit when it is being addressed in 
a ritual or when a shaman cuts its image from paper. When 
they are asked about this spirit, people will obviously describe 
its nature as it appears in that particular context. Thus we have 
reports of the earth as being a beneficent provider, a bringer 
of rain, a devouring monster, and a leader of dangerous spirits. 
These characteristics become contradictory only if the Indian 
religion is viewed as polytheistic. 

To carry the analysis further, in a pantheistic world view no 
real distinction exists between the earth and the water or be- 
tween any other fundamental elements. The Indians, in fact, 
consistently link seemingly unrelated elements in their myths. 
For example, they connect the earth and water by saying that 
rain comes from deep underground caves. Spirits of the dead are 
associated with the earth, which is associated with the water, 
which, in turn, is linked to the sky, which is ruled by the sun. 
Thus we have a paper image of the life-giving sun surrounded by 
dead souls, two seemingly opposite concepts. Corn is a con- 
junction of earth, water, and sun; thus, the corn spirit incor- 
porates the powers of the earth and water. It, too, can kill a 
person by stealing his "soul." All other aspects of the universe 
can be connected at higher and higher levels until all parts are 
subsumed into a totality. In sum, the multitudes of paper images 
portray the same spirit in different guises. 


Shamans create their rituals and paper images out of this unity, 
but they do so using a common reservoir of symbols and icons. 
They temporarily break the unity into manageable segments in 
order to restore harmony and balance between humans and the 
powers in the universe. Not surprisingly, they partition the 
unity into the constituent parts, such as the earth, water, seeds, 
and disease-causing agents, that express the concerns of horti- 
culturalists. Shamans are constrained in their inventiveness by 
the common world view of the people and by the symbols and 


icons available for them to use in their rituals. Most of the 
creativity takes place in how the various symbols are manipu- 
lated; in the manifestations or aspects of the earth, water, and 
other elements that shamans select to emphasize; and in the 
adjunct elements and emblems chosen to modify the paper 
images. The anthropomorphic core element of the paper figure 
is not changed significantly, and it is always recognizable. This 
core element is the visible representation of the unity out of 
which all of the apparent diversity emerges. 

This viewpoint helps to clarify one of the great puzzles of 
present-day studies of Mesoamerican Indian religion: how is it 
that the Indians came to accept Christianity and at the same 
time continued their pre-Hispanic beliefs and practices? We 
have already examined many examples of Christian and tra- 
ditional beliefs that have been syncretized into the religious 
systems we find today. But this is not a simple reconciliation 
of colliding world views. The very process of syncretism is built 
into a pantheistic religion. "Syncretism, in this context, is simply 
the technical name of a process already inherent in the nature 
of the pantheon before the influence of Christianity was ever 
felt" (Hunt 1977, p. 234). The core of the pantheistic world 
view has remained intact among contemporary Indians, and for 
this reason the introduction of new spirits by the Spaniards, 
in the form of saints, the Trinity, and the Devil, poses no 
problem for them. The new pantheon simply "expands the 
repertoire of sacred 'words' that can be fitted into the divine 
'sentence matrix ,,, (Hunt 1977, p. 56). Thus San Juan becomes 
an aspect of the water pantheon, and Santa Rosa, a saint re- 
nowned for her visions, becomes associated with the traditional 
marijuana spirit. This form of syncretism is problematic only 
to people used to thinking in terms of monotheism and poly- 
theism. From the Indian perspective, the most puzzling aspect 
of colonial rule was the Spaniards' insistence on complete uni- 
formity of thought and the exclusion of all spirits and concep- 
tions but their own. 

We know very little about the nature of the unity that lies 
at the heart of Indian religious conceptions. It is a profound 


mystery that reveals itself only partially amid the color and 
diversity of ritual practices, complex pantheons, and stacks of 
paper images. As a guide to future interpretations of the cos- 
tumbre religion, however, we would like to suggest a possible 
definition of the unity that underlies this diversity. One key, 
we believe, lies in the central place occupied by the sun in 
all three pantheons. The sun, frequently deified in militaristic 
societies around the world, embodies the principles of action, 
movement, force, and power. Thus, the unity, as exemplified 
by the sun, is the principle of animation itself— that which 
imbues objects, animals, and people with a life-force. One 
Nahua concept of spirit or "soul" discussed in chapter 4 is 
based on a view of the sun as the source of the animating 
principle. As an additional clue, one researcher reports that 
the Tepehua word for their own religion is Halakiltunti, which 
means Moving of the Things (Boiles 1967, p. 267). Finally, 
the pre-Hispanic Aztecs conceived of our current era as the 
fifth in the history of the cosmos. They called it Naui Ollin, 
or Four-Movement. This name, usually linked to their idea 
that our era will end in earthquakes, may also underscore that 
activity is the organizing principle of our age. The unifying 
principle in the Indian cosmos, as revealed by the small human 
figure with the hands by the head, is a kind of dance of life 
that animates the universe. 

The analysis of visual representations such as the paper images 
can point to fruitful avenues for future research, can confirm 
or deny findings, or suggest interpretations of religious systems. 
Manufactured items always reveal much about their makers. 
Ritual objects in particular are concrete expressions of a people's 
world-view and deepest concerns. In order to understand the 
costumbre complex more fully however, we need extensive in- 
formation of the native cosmology. We require systematic 
observation and decoding of rituals and collection and analysis 
of the myth systems that are operating. In addition, we need 
to know how the shamans generate the transformations that re- 
sult in the cutting of specific paper images. Much work remains. 
The focus of our research must be on the process by which 


spirits are created from the unity and called into play during 
rituals and upon how the creations of individual shamans be- 
come socially shared. The purpose of anthropology is to explain 
cultural phenomena. Thus the work on the costumbre complex 
will not be complete until we can isolate the factors, ecological, 
social, historical, and psychological, that explain why a complex 
pantheistic religion develops in the first place. 


Listed below are explanations of the pre-Hispanic symbol classes 
developed by Eva Hunt (1977), with specific examples of the symbols 
derived from contemporary Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua culture. 
Corresponding paper images are noted by figure number, where 
information is available. 


Vo la tiles 

This class of symbols is composed of "fliers" of different types, mainly 
birds. "Each flier [usually] represented a god or gods, in the role of 
alter ego 'messenger' between the earth and upper sky levels'' (Hunt 
1977, p. 58). The owl and eagle, among other birds, appear recur- 
rently in Middle American symbolism. The owl is associated with 
darkness, the underworld, and death (Hunt 1977, p. 59). 

Nahua: Tlacatecolotl (Owl Man) is chief of the underworld. 
Teyolcuahetl is a blood-sucking buzzard. 
Nagual is a blood-sucking night bird. 

Otomi: Eagles are spirit companions of shamans. 

Owls are spirit companions of sorcerers. 

Nagual is a blood-sucking night bird (figure 70). 

Messengers of Lord of the Mountain are birds (figures 75-80). 

The watching-bird motif is used in many paper images (figures 
136, 138, 140-42). 

Tepehua: Lord of the Wind has wings and a bird's tail (figure 166). 
La Serena has feet like a duck. 
Nagual is a blood-sucking night bird (probable). 
Owls are harbingers of death (Williams Garcia 1972, p. 121). 



Crawlers and Swimmers 

Reptiles, worms, and aquatic animals are included in this symbol 
class (Hunt 1977, p. 74). 

Nahua: Lady of the Water controls aquatic animals. 

Snakes are associated with the earth and the underworld (see Mon- 
toya Briones 1977). 

Figure 16 is an ejecatl spirit with mollusk-shell clothes. 

Otomi: Queen of the Bad Earth (figure 60) has snake spirit helpers. 
Lady of the Water controls aquatic animals. 

Tepehua: Girl of the Water controls fish 

Four-leg-ped Walkers or Mammals 

In pre-Hispanic times animals used as symbols were all wild except 
for the domesticated dog. When the Spaniards introduced domes- 
ticated animals, such as cattle, horses, and mules, these animals were 
incorporated into Indian symbol systems (Hunt 1977, p. 80). 

Nahua: The Devil leads all animals. 

People become animals when they die (Williams Garcia 1957, p. 62). 

Figures 14, 16, 17, 19, 23, 24 are portrayed with animal horns as 
a sign of their animallike temperament. 

Otomi: Jaguars and cougars are animal companion spirits of shamans 
(figure 148). 

Foxes are animal companion spirits of sorcerers. 

Figures 61-68, 70-73 have tails or heads of animals. 

Tepehua: El Sereno is patron of animals. 
Deer is the father of the maize spirit. 


Human beings as part of the natural order were considered by pre- 
Hispanic peoples to be a transformational category. Human spirits 
are partly animal spirit (nahual) and partly other cosmic elements, 
such as heat from the sun (tona). The living orders are arranged in 
a "phagohierarchy": animals eat each other and plants; man eats all 



lower orders; and the gods eat man. Man was created by the sun 
and is one step below the ancestors (Hunt 1977, pp. 88-89). 

Nahua: Humans have animal companion spirits. 

Humans were created by the Sun (Toteotsi). 

One name for "soul" is tonal {heat). 

Humans eat the earth's products and are eaten by the earth in 

Shamans cut anthropomorphic paper images. 

Otomi: Humans have animal companion spirits (rogi) (figure 148). 

Humans were created by the sun (figure 150). 

Humans eat the earth's products and are eaten by the earth in 
turn (figure 67). 

Shamans cut anthropomorphic paper images. 

Tepehua: Humans were created by the sun (figures 160a, b). 

Humans eat the earth's products and are eaten by the earth in 
turn (figures 163a, b). 

Shamans cut anthropomorphic paper images. 


Domestic Plants 

Maize was a major cultigen of symbolic importance. It was considered 
to be the offspring of earth and sun. Many domestic plants had 
internal subdivisions based on the growth cycle. Corn was distin- 
guished as flowering corn, ripening corn, dry corn cob, etc. (Hunt 
1977, pp. 89ff.). 

Nahua: Seed images represent crop spirits (figures 38-51). 

Maize is the most important seed image (Chicomexochitl, Seven- 

Growth stages of maize are distinguished (figures 38-40). 

Crops are considered to be the products of earth, water, and sun. 

Otomi: Seed images represent crop spirits (figures 81-135). 

Crops are considered to be the products of the earth, water, and 

Tepehua: Seed images represent crop spirits (figures 172-75). 


Maize is the most important seed image (figures 172a, 172b, 173). 
Crops are considered to be the products of the earth, water, and 

Powerful Plants and Plant Parts 

This class of plants used symbolically by pre-Hispanic peoples in- 
cludes hallucinogens such as tobacco, alcohol, and, presumably, mari- 
juana. It also includes copal incense, which is made from a tree 
resin, and sacred herbs. Since colonial times aguardiente has been 
added to this class (Hunt 1977, pp. 91-92). 

Nahua: Marijuana, copal, tobacco, aguardiente, and sacred herbs are 
all used in rituals. 

Otomi: Marijuana (figure 153), copal, tobacco, aguardiente, and sacred 
herbs are all used in rituals. 

Tepehua: Copal, tobacco, aguardiente, sacred herbs, and marijuana 
(figure 178) are used in rituals. 


Many different kinds of flowers were used in ritual contexts in pre- 
European Middle America. Flowers stood for ornaments, poetry, 
beauty, vegetable nature, sophisticated thinking, love, sexual pleasure, 
and the like. Several deities were named for flowers, such as Ma- 
cuilxochitl (Five-Flower) and Xochipilli (Flower Prince). Special 
flowers were often identified with single ideas. For instance, mari- 
golds were considered to be flowers of the dead (Hunt 1977, p. 92). 

Nahua: Many flowers are used in rituals. 

Several spirits or spirit classes contain "flower" in their names, 
such as Macuilxochitl, "Five-Flower" (see Sandstrom 1982); Chicome- 
xochitl, "Seven-Flower"; and Xochiejecatl, "Flowery Wind." 

The marigold is known as the "death flower." 

Otomi: Many flowers are used in rituals. 

The marigold is known as the "death flower." 

Tepehua: Many flowers are used in rituals. 
The marigold is known as the "death flower." 



Trees and Bushes 

Trees and bushes are used as sacred symbols based on their special 
attributes (Hunt 1977, p. 94). 

Nahua: Tropical cedar, teocuauitl (sacred wood), is used for support 
beams in houses and to make the box containing the seed images. 

Otomi: No information. 

Tepehua: No information. 



All classes of the natural orders were distinguished by sex. "Moun- 
tains, caves, and other features of the landscape were personified and 
defined as having a specific sex." Manifestations of deities were either 
male or female and many were married couples. This class of symbols 
includes sexual anomalies and deified women who died in childbirth 
(Hunt 1977, pp. 95ff.). 

Nahua: Many spirits are identified by sex and are conceptualized as 
male-female pairs (figures 1, 7). 

Features of the landscape are given sexual identities. 

Women who die in childbirth become dangerous spirits. 

There is a sexual division of labor among ritual specialists. 

Otomi: Many spirits are identified by sex and are conceptualized as 
male-female pairs. 

Sexual jealousy exists among spirits (figure 60). 

Features of the landscape are given sexual identities. 

Women who die in childbirth become dangerous spirits (figure 69). 

Paper images are cut for love magic (figures 154a-c). 

Tepehua: Many spirits are identified by sex and are conceptualized as 
male-female pairs. 

Many spirits have male-female unities as "parents." 

Women who die in childbirth become water carriers. 

Paper images are cut for love magic (figures 179-81). 

There is a sexual division of labor among ritual specialists. 


Stages of Growth and Ages of Man 

"Stages of the life cycle were recognized in all things." Pre-Hispanic 
peoples used stages of growth and junior-senior relations in religious 
symbols. In addition, the ritual calendar was arranged so that rituals 
of aging and death were observed in the winter months and rituals 
of fertility and growth were held near the end of the winter solstice 
period or at the onset of the rainy season (Hunt 1977, pp. 109ff.). 

Nahua: Witness spirits have senior rank (figures 27-31). 

Seeds are thought of as children. 

The maize seed spirit is expressed as a series of growth stages 
(figures 38-40). 

The Tonantsi myth concerns the birth and maturation of four sons. 

Antiguas are old spirits. 

The ritual calendar reflects stages of the year. 

Otomi: Figures 71-72 are the spirits of disrespectful children (juniors). 
Figures 136-39 are Child of the Mountain spirits. 
Antiguas are old spirits. 
The ritual calendar reflects stages of the year. 

Tepehua: Spirits are usually in a parent-child relationship. 
Seed spirits are thought of as children. 
Rain spirits are "Old Ones." 
Antiguas are old spirits. 
The ritual calendar reflects stages of the year. 

Parts of the Body 

Body parts were used as elements of symbolic classification in pre- 
Hispanic religions (Hunt 1977, pp. 112ff.). 

Nahua: Earth's body, blood, and bones are soil, water, and rocks, 

Shamans use anthropomorphic paper images. 

Bones signify death (figure 12). 

Many paper images are cut with hearts, stomachs, and genitals 
(e.g., figures 1-7, 42-44, 47). 

Paper images with toes are identified with the Indian world (e.g., 
figures 43, 44, 47). 

The pointed head shape of paper images may indicate the other 
worldly nature of spirits (figures 1-59). 



Otomi: Spirits undergo transformation of human into animal body 
parts (figures 71-72). 

Spirits have multiple heads and legs along with exaggerated teeth, 
tongues, stomachs, noses, and beards, all to convey danger (figures 

Shamans use anthropomorphic paper images. 

Paper images cut with toes are identified with the Indian world 
(e.g., figures 81-135). 

The seed images have babvlike head shapes to signify immaturity 
(figures 81-135). 

Tepehua: Heads are used to represent the spirits of the dead (figure 

Shamans use anthropomorphic paper images. 

Bones signify death (figures 155a, b). 

Manv paper images are cut with hearts, stomachs, and genitals 
(e.g., figures 155a-59, 162a-65, 167-71, 176a-78). 

Midwives include a copal "heart" in each one of their brushlike 


"From the religious point of view, sickness was utilized in a trans- 
formational subsystem, which had associations with cardinal direc- 
tionality and with the gods" (Hunt 1977, pp. 114-15). For example, 
water diseases or drowning were associated with the water gods. In 
general the pre-Hispanic system for dealing with disease is bound up 
with religious and cosmic symbolism. 

Nahua: Illness is a sign of imbalance between humans and spirits or 
of spirit attack. 

Certain diseases are associated with specific spirits. 

Death by certain diseases can determine the fate of the "soul." 

Drowning is associated with the water spirit. 

Disease is cured mostly through ritual means. 

Otomi: Illness is a sign of imbalance between humans and spirits or 
of spirit attack. 

The water spirit (figure 68) drowns people, controls disease-causing 
spirits, and can cause illness by capturing a person's "soul." 

Disease is cured mostly through ritual means. 


Tepehua: Illness is a sign of imbalance between humans and spirits 
or of spirit attack. 

The moon is associated with disease-causing spirits. 

Illness can be caused when spirits steal a person's "soul." 

Disease is cured mostly through ritual means. 



Wind was an important symbol in pre-Hispanic religion, and it was 
subdivided according to origin, season of the year, velocity "and such 
other variables as [winds'] beneficial or harmful quality for man and 
his habitat." Among these were the small winds (aires) that brought 
disease and the stronger winds that brought storms and hurricanes. 
Waterspouts and whirlwinds were key images of major deities (Hunt 
1977, pp. 116-17). 

Nahua: Wind spirits cause disease (Flowery Wind, Seven-Wind, Poly- 
chrome Winds of Cultivation) (figures 1-26). 

Otomi: Wind spirits cause disease (figures 60-73). 

Tepehua: Tamoswilhi'untin is a whirlwind that carries off people's 

Maxkafun (wind spirits) cause disease (figures 155a-59) 

Lord of the Wind (figure 166). 

Falling Water 

Falling water or rain is associated with the god Tlaloc, one of the 
most ancient in the pre-Hispanic pantheon. Rain was thought to come 
from caves in the earth, from whence it went up to the sky and then 
fell back to earth. Minor deities associated with Tlaloc were called 
tlaloques or water goblins. Rains that watered the crops were dis- 
tinguished from rains producing floods (Hunt 1977, pp. 123-24). 

Nahua: Thunder and Lightning, which are conceived of as dwarflike 
spirits that live in caves, transport water from the sea before they 
release it as rain (see also chapter 2). 

Old Ones are spirits who live in stone ruins and send rain. 

Lady of the Water controls the amount of rainfall. 


Otomi: The spirit u Two-Shrine" lives in a cave and sends rain. 
Lady of the Water brings rain to the fields. 

Tepehua: The spirits of women who die in childbirth are water carriers. 
Lord of the Wind foretells of coming rain (figure 166). 
Female water spirit (La Serena) sends rain. 
Small humanoid spirits, Old Ones, actually produce the rain. 
San Juan lives in the ocean and initiates the rainy season each year. 

Surface Water 

"The springs, lagoons, rivers, waterholes, lakes, irrigation canals and 
other bodies of water on the earth's surface were conceptualized as 
female and [were] represented by a set of deities" (Hunt 1977, p. 125). 

Nahua: Santa Rosa (marijuana) is a water- related spirit. 
The Lady of the Water lives in springs and rivers. 
San Juan is a water spirit possibly associated with the ocean. 

Otomi: Lady of the Water, Siren of the Lake, and Spirit of the Well 
are all spirits associated with bodies of water. 

Wicked Siren and Santa Rosa are water- related spirits (figures 68, 

Tepehua: Lord of the Water is one of the most important spirits. 

El Sereno and La Serena (the sirens) are parents of the Lord of 
the Water, and they control animals, food production, etc. 

San Juan lives in the ocean and initiates the rainy season. 

Girl of the Water and Halapanaxkan are water-related spirits. 


Fire had complex symbolic associations in pre-Hispanic Middle 
America. A distinction was made between manmade fire, which in- 
cluded the fire used in the slash-and-burn horticultural cycle and 
for cooking, and natural fire, which included lightning, the sun, 
stars, volcanoes, etc. It was associated with light and heat and was 
linked to the life forces of people and animals (Hunt 1977, pp. 125-26). 

Nahua: The fire spirit Tlixauantsi guards household members from 
its home in the three fireplace stones and is propitiated in rituals. 


Otomi: The fire spirit Maka Xita Sibi accompanies the sun but lives 
in the three stones surrounding the household fireplace, from which 
it guards family members. 

Tepehua: Sacred Fire lives in the sky when it is not guarding families 
from the three stones around the household fireplace (figure 169). 


"The earth played an interface role in the taxonomical system of 
natural and sacred orders. The religious representations of earth in 
the symbolism of prehispanic Mesoamericans embody some of the 
most complicated, diversified, and exotic of their ideas." Some sym- 
bolic associations include the earth as mother to domestic plants and 
as womb, mouth, tomb, and house of the universal deities. Fire and 
water were also elements of earth. "All the deities which symbolized 
aspects of reproduction, birth, and death had earthly aspects. ... It 
was loving and destructive, nurturant mother and carnivorous mon- 
ster . . . human and animal, male and female, a dead and living 
thing" (Hunt 1977, pp. 129-31). 

Nahua (see chapter 4 for a more detailed list): 

Tlaltepactli is the spirit of the earth's surface, which includes the 
sacred hills and caves that are the spirits' residences. 

Tlaltetata and Tlaltenana are male-female aspects of the earth 
which are propitiated in rituals. 

Moctezuma is the devouring aspect of the earth. 

The earth is a tomb in that it contains Mictlan, the realm of the 

The earth is mother to the seeds, related to fire and water, con- 
sumer of dead bodies, and viewed by the Nahuas with ambivalence. 

Otomi (see chapter 5 for a more detailed list): 

The beneficient spirit Earth Mother or Queen of the Good Earth 
is balanced by the malevolent Queen of the Bad Earth (figure 60) 
and Moctezuma (figure 67). 

The earth is a tomb in that it contains the underworld in which 
live disease-causing spirits of the dead. 

The earth has the caves and hills on its surface that serve as the 
residences of many spirits. 

The earth is strongly linked to Maka Me (Sacred Lady), who 



controls fertility; Ma Yoho Nija (Two-Shrine), who controls rain; 
and many other spirits. 

The earth is conceived of as the mother of seeds, and it is viewed 
with ambivalence. 

Tepehua (see chapter 6 for a more detailed list): 

The Lord of the Earth (Xalapanalakat'un) is the major earth spirit 
and is accompanied by a unitary male-female parental couple (Ix- 

The earth is mother of the seeds, but it is ambivalent because in 
the guise of Moctezuma/Santasoma it devours corpses (figures 163a, b). 

The earth contains the underworld (Lak'nin) with the spirits of 
the dead, which can cause disease among the living. 

Devil (Tlakakikuru) is a fearsome earth spirit that causes disease 
and death. 

The earth has the caves and hills on its surface that serve as the 
residences of many spirits. 

Santa Rosa (figure 178) among the Tepehuas is apparently associated 
with the earth. 

Geographic Aspects of the Earth 

". . . many features of the earthly landscape were systematically 
associated with features of prehispanic religion." The include moun- 
tains, deserts, rivers, forests, lakes, waterholes, caves, etc. (Hunt 1977, 
p. 134). 

Nahua, Otomt, Tepehua: Among these groups, mountains, lakes, springs, 
caves, and additional geographic features such as crossroads are all 
important aspects of religious symbolism. 


The Sun 

"If for Western culture 'the measure of all things' is man, for pre- 
hispanic Mesoamerican peoples it was the deified planets. And among 
the planets, there ruled, victorious and unchallenged, the sun" (Hunt 
1977, p. 138). 

Nahua: The Sun (Toteotsi) is syncretized with Jesus and is the para- 
mount spirit. 


Sun symbols are included in many rituals (figure 59). 

Otomi: The Sun (Maka Hyadi) is syncretized with Jesus and is the 
paramount spirit. 

The Sun may be equivalent to Dios de Antigua (Ancient Lord). 

Tepehua: The Sun (Wilhchaan) (figures 160a, b) is syncretized with 
Jesus and is the paramount spirit. 

The Sun rules over the universe from the Golden Hill. 

The Inner Planets 

See Hunt 1977, p. 139. No published information exists on this 
symbol class for the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas. 

The Moon 

For the people of pre-Hispanic Middle America the moon was a 
"complex deity subsystem." Some of its images were male, others 
were female, some were human, and others were animal (Hunt 1977, 
p. 139). The moon was often conceived of in conjunction with or in 
opposition to the sun. ". . . the moon-fire takes an ambivalent role, 
at times an enemy of the sun at times neutral between [the sun 
and stars, i.e. day and night]. Obviously, the moon which is some- 
times lighted like a minor sun, at other times absent, leaving the sky 
to be ruled only by the stars, fitted this metaphor with great economy 
and beauty" (Hunt 1977, p. 152). The phases of the moon were 
believed to have an effect on events; for example, a full moon was 
felt to cause increased sap flow in trees. 

Nahua: The moon (Metstli) is associated with Tonantsi and fertility, 
but it is also ambivalent in nature. 

Otomi: The moon is associated both with fertility and dangerous 
spirits of the night. 

Tepehua: The moon (Malhkuyu') is associated with the Devil and 
malos aires. 

Paper images of dangerous moon spirits have crescent-shaped head- 
dresses (figures 155a, b, 157a, b). 

Aspects of the moon are linked to the menstrual cycle. 




The Outer Planets 


Jupiter and Saturn 

The Stars and Constellations 

See Hunt 1977, pp. 140ff. 

Nahua, Otomi, and Tepehua: Each of these celestial bodies played an 
important role in the religious symbolism of pre-Hispanic peoples. 
We do not have information on their importance among contemporary 
people in the region except that the Nahuas have a name for Venus 
(Tonquetl) and for the Pleiades (Chicome Citlali, Seven-Star). 


The symbolic meanings assigned to different colors in pre-Hispanic 
Middle America are not completely understood. "For religious and 
sacred purposes, however, five colors were dominant: black, white, 
red, yellow, and blue-green (turquoise)" (Hunt 1977, p. 154). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: The three contemporary groups symbolically 
link these same five colors to the paper images. Among the Nahuas 
the colors identify the cosmological origin of the spirit. Otomi and 
Tepehua color symbolism is also clearly important, but additional 
field studies are required before it can be clarified. 


In pre-Hispanic religions certain minerals had symbolic significance 
(Hunt 1977, pp. 155-56). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: Little is known about the symbolic signifi- 
cance of minerals in these groups. In all three cultures, rock crystals 
are placed on altars and have some link to the religious systems. The 
Nahuas view them as mirrors (tezcatl), which shamans can use to 
peer into the future. 



Tools and Weapons 

In pre-Hispanic times, " Implements of work and war were symbols 
of human activities that were attributed to the gods." Some of the 
items in this category include knives, arrows, household implements, 
paper fans in different shapes, and staffs (Hunt 1977, p. 157). 

Nahua: Walking sticks or staffs (bastones) used in rituals identify thun- 
der and lightning spirits (see chapter 2). 

Otomi: Many of the paper images carry machetes (figures 62, 63- 

Grandfather Fire carries a walking stick. 

The spirit of the patient is depicted with a blanket (figure 149). 

Paper images of musical instruments are cut (figures 151-52). 

Walking sticks or staffs (bastones) used in rituals identify thunder 
and lightning spirits (see chapter 2). 

Tepehua: Guardian stars shoot arrows at stones that threaten to be- 
come jaguars. 

Spirits of the dead pass through a sugarcane press. 

Old Ones carry walking sticks that produce thunder and lightning. 

San Juan has a walking stick. 

The paper image of the cross spirit holds swords (figure 170). 

A paper image is cut of a shaman with a brazier on his head 
(figure 183). 

Household Equipment and Furniture 

"Household goods were also attached to the gods to indicate their 
sex, status, activity and the domains of life they controlled." Kitchen 
spirits were symbolized by the three stones surrounding the cooking 
fire (Hunt 1977, pp. 157-58). 

Nahua: Shamans cut paper images of "tortilla napkins," which serve 
as spirit beds (figures 52-58). 

Miniature furnishings are included in the box containing the seed 

The three fireplace stones represent the hearth spirit. 

Otomi: Shamans cut paper "beds" or "seats" for paper images (figures 



Miniature furnishings are included in the box containing the seed 

The three fireplace stones represent the hearth spirit. 

Tepehua: Shamans cut paper "beds" for paper images. 

Miniature furnishings are included in the box containing the seed 

The three fireplace stones represent the hearth spirit. 


"Clothing had enormous social importance among prehispanic peoples. 
It was the major symbol in the presentation of the self as a social 
being, identifying age and sex status, social class, ethnic group, pro- 
fession, and special privileges. . . . Elaborate variations in clothing 
details . . . formed a complex sartorial language of divine identifi- 
cations" (Hunt 1977, p. 159). 

Nahua: Dancers wear headdresses during Tlacatelilis. 

Seed images are clothed (figures 45-46). 

Complex elaboration of clothing is associated with paper images: 
jorongos (figures 4, 8, 28-30, 38, 40-41); dresses which indicate sex 
(figures 7, 13, 15); mollusk shells (figure 16), hair (figure 18), spines 
(figure 10), etc., all of which indicate the disease-bearing nature of 
the spirit. 

Paper images are cut with hats (e.g., figures 8, 14, 40) and crowns 
(figures 1,7, 10, 11,43,45-47). 

Paper images are cut with shoes as a symbol of outsider status 
and travel (e.g., figures 1, 5, 8, 10-11, 14). 

Paper images are cut with elaborate designs in clothing, including 
pockets (e.g., figures 2, 4-7, 27-30). 

Otomi: Seed images are clothed. 

Complex elaboration of clothing is associated with paper images: 
dresses that may indicate sex (e.g., figures 60, 68, 69, 136-38, 146, 
154b); pants that may indicate sex (e.g., figures 136-38, 147, 154a); 
thunderclaps (figures 65-66, 69); jorongos (e.g., figures 74, 81-135). 

Paper images are cut with crowns (e.g., figures 65-66, 69, 73-74, 

Paper images are cut with shoes as a likely symbol of outsider 
status (e.g., figures 60-73, 146, 154a-c). 


Tepehua: Seed images are clothed. 

The spirits on the Golden Hill are conceived of as being lavishly 

Complex elaboration of clothing associated with paper images: 
jorongos (e.g., figures 155a, 156b, c, 157b, 159, 166, 172a, b-174); 
clear distinction between male pants (e.g., figures 155a, 156b, c, 157b, 
159, 162a, 163a, 176b, 177a) and female dresses (e.g., figures 155b, 
156a, 157a, 162b, 176a, 177b). 

Paper images are cut with crowns (e.g., figures 155a, b-159, 161- 
67, 170-74, 176a, b, 178, 182). 

Paper images are cut with designs in clothing (figures 155a, b- 
160b, 162a, b, 168a, b, 176a, b-177a, b). 

Face Painting and Masks 

"Prehispanic peoples used face painting or ornamentation to indicate 
their status ... in the same manner in which they used clothing. 
. . . All the gods had special colors and designs over their faces" 
(Hunt 1977, p. 160). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: The Nahuas impersonate underworld spirits 
by painting their faces and bodies and wearing masks during the ob- 
servance of Nanauatili (Carnaval) (see Reyes Garcia 1960). The Otomis 
and Tepehuas also wear masks during Carnaval, and the Tepehuas 
cover their faces during All Souls (Todos Santos). Otomi shamans 
use charcoal to blacken the facial features of the malos aires paper 
images (see chapter 2). 



"The gods mapped out the social order according to the division of 
labor in the society." Each professional group had a tutelary deity, 
such as Huitzilopochtli for warriors and Teteoinnan (Mother of Gods) 
for midwives (Hunt 1977, p. 161). 

Nahua: Spirits associated with natural phenomena are called duenos 
in Spanish, meaning "owner" or "lord"; for example, Apanchane 
(Lady of the Water) is owner of the water, and Tlaltetata and Tlal- 
tenana rule the earth. 

Spirits are arranged hierarchically, to some extent; for example, 



Tonantsi is master of the seeds, the Devil (Tlauelilo) leads the ejecatl 
spirits, etc. 

Christian saints are often tutelary spirits of occupations; for example, 
San Jose is patron of carpenters, and San Isidro is the patron of 
farmers (Reyes Garcia 1960, p. 35). 

Otomi: Spirits associated with natural phenomena are called duenos 
or "owners"; for example, Malta Xumpo Dehe is owner of the water, 
and Earth Mother rules the earth. 

Spirits are arranged hierarchically, to some extent; for example, 
the Devil (figure 62) and Moctezuma (figure 67) lead the malos aires, 
and Lord of the Mountain (figure 74) leads his helpers (figures 75- 

Christian saints are probably tutelary spirits of occupations. 

The President of Hell (figure 61) is a spirit named after a modern 
political office. 

Tepehua: Spirits associated with natural phenomena are called duenos 
or "owners"; for example, Xalapanaak Xkan (Lord of the Water, 
figure 164) is owner of the water, and Xalapanalakat'un (Lord of the 
Earth, figures 163a, b) rules the earth. 

The underworld is organized like a municipio with a presidente. 

Spirits are arranged hierarchically to some extent; for example, 
the Devil (Tlakakikuru, figures 157a, b, 158a, b) leads the ma/os aires, 
and the Lord of Water (figure 164) leads the Old Ones (Papanin). 

The Golden Hill is arranged hierarchically into two "tables." 

Christian saints are probably tutelary spirits of occupations. 

Deceased ritual specialists are tutelary spirits of living specialists. 

Food as a Marker of Social Status 

"Since each god had his own place in the calendrical rituals, he also 
had his special food. These foods were cooked and eaten by the par- 
ticipants in specified rituals, as offerings to the deity" (Hunt 1977, 
p. 161). Some were luxury foods; others were seasonal. 

Na/iua, Otomi, Tepehua: Little information has been published on this 
aspect of the contemporary systems of symbolic classification. Special 
foods, including tamales and mole, a sauce made with chocolate, are 
served during Todos Santos (All Souls). Young ears of corn, called 
elotes, have a ritual connotation and are eaten in the early fall. The 


Nahuas eat a special cornbread called />/#/' during the winter solstice 
ritual of Tlacatelilis. Finally, each ritual offering contains foods and 
beverages, including cornmeal, chicken or turkey meat soup, tortillas, 
coffee, bread, aguardiente, and blood, which are considered appro- 
priate to feed the spirits. This is an important area of symbolic clas- 
sification since all spirits related to plant growth and fishing are, in 
a sense, linked to specific food types. 

Historical Culture Heroes 

u Many of the prehispanic deities had apparently been living beings 
who were deified after their deaths. Others were historically real 
culture heroes who for some reason had become identified with an 
already existing deity" (Hunt 1977, p. 163). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: Like most other contemporary Middle Amer- 
ican Indians, the Nahuas, Otomis, and Tepehuas have syncretized 
their culture heroes with sacred personages from Christianity. Very 
little published material exists on the myth systems of these groups. 

Ethnic Groups 

This class includes tutelary deities of ethnic groups (Hunt 1977, p. 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: No published information exists on this sym- 
bol class. 


"The gods, like man, had intricate genealogical relationships with 
each other." The entire sacred kinship system contained contradic- 
tions, however, and an overall genealogy was never worked out by 
the theologians. "However, when the gods are taken in small mythi- 
cal sets of two or three, they form genealogical constellations of pri- 
mary lineal relatives" (Hunt 1977, p. 164). 

Nahua: Tonantsi is the mother of four important spirits: Tlauelilo, 
San Juan, Moctezuma, and Jesus. 

Tonantsi is also the mother of the seed spirits. 

The earth, sun, and water are also the parents of the seeds. 

The sun is father to all humans (Tata Sol). 



Several spirits are conceived of as married couples (e.g., figures 

1 and 7). 

Otomi: Queen of the Good Earth and Queen of the Bad Earth (figure 
60) are sisters. 

Queen of the Good Earth and Dios Antigua are married. 

The Sacred Lady (Maka Me) is probably the mother of the seeds. 

Tepehua: Most major deities have a unitary, male-female parental 
pair; for example, Ixpayixnatikinpaydios, parents of the sun, and 
Ixpayixnati Malhkuyu', parents of the moon. 

Many paper images are cut in male-female, husband-wife pairs 
(e.g., figures 155a, b, 157a, b, 162a, b, 176a, b). 

Seed spirits are children of the Lord of the Water (Xalapanaak 


"Prehispanic Mesoamerican religion, based as it was in complex games 
of a mytho-poetic nature, reached one of its most developed forms 
in its imaginative, elegant, creative use of language. Hence it is not 
surprising that in ideas about the divinity, plays on words . . . had 
a most important role" (Hunt 1977, p. 167). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: No published information is available on this 
aspect of the contemporary religion. 


"The Mesoamerican peoples of the past mapped out, in their concep- 
tions of the gods, their ambivalences about the social, moral and 
psychic domain. . . . None of the deities were without ambivalent 
images, none of them were pure metaphors for good or bad, wholly 
beneficial or destructive" (Hunt 1977, p. 170). u To obtain [the gods'] 
favor requires constant cajoling and gifts. They simultaneously bind 
burdens of sickness and fear upon man and feed him with precious 
corn" (Hunt 1977, p. 171). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: This characterization clearly applies to the 
three contemporary cultures. For example, the earth is conceived of 
as a provider of sustenance and a consumer of the dead. It gives 
life and then takes it away by sending spirits of the dead to attack 


people. Water spirits, the sun, ancestor spirits, etc., all have positive 
and negative qualities. The Tepehuas seem the most explicit about 
this ambivalence in their statements that even crop spirits can steal 
a "soul." The sequence of ritual obligations met by each culture also 
indicates that the spirits require constant gifts. Activities of humans 
annoy the spirits, who demand a continuous compensation because 
of this. 


"Prehispanic peoples used mathematics in accounting and astronomy, 
and for other practical needs; they also raised it to the status of an 
esoteric art" (Hunt 1977, p. 172). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: Sophisticated mathematical systems undoubt- 
edly were found in the urban centers in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica 
and not in the smaller villages. Thus, little has survived today. No 
information is published on this aspect of the religious symbol sys- 
tem of these three cultures. 


"Prehispanic peoples conceived of the cosmos as having a number 
of dimensions and directions which corresponded with several alter- 
nate models, all of which are basic mathematical-typological con- 
structs" (Hunt 1977, p. 177). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: No information exists on this aspect of the 
religious system for the Nahuas and Tepehuas. Galinier (1979a) has 
written a brief article on directionality among the Otomis. 


Geometric Designs 

"Stereotyped geometric shapes with a religious symbolic value— cir- 
cles, eye shapes, undulant lines, squares, and many other figures — 
abound in prehispanic architecture, painting, and writing" (Hunt 
1977, p. 180). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: While we will not assert that the cut paper 
designs of contemporary peoples are equivalent to those produced in 
pre-Hispanic times by painters, sculptors, or architects, it is clear 



that the paper images share in the general tradition of using geo- 
metric designs to convey and express religious symbols. 

Numerology and Signs 

"Clearly, sign and number names as well as other esoteric combina- 
tions were transformationally derived from all the taxonomic orders 
combined: natural, cultural, divine, and logical-mathematical" (Hunt 
1977, pp. 202-203). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: The complex numerological system that char- 
acterized pre-Hispanic religion does not appear among these modern 
groups. Aspects of the system undoubtedly remain. The ritual calen- 
dars of the modern Indians still reflect their pre-Hispanic roots (Hunt 
1977, p. 186; Reyes Garcia 1960, pp. 39-40), although the Christian 
influence is significant. No detailed study of this aspect of the reli- 
gious symbol system has been published. 


"The numerology of the space-time directions had a practical appli- 
cation in the planning of prehispanic cities and towns, and certainly 
in the arrangements of temples and other public places" (Hunt 1977, 
p. 203). 

Nahua, Otomi, Tepehua: No published information exists on this topic. 



1. The Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca manufacture a clothlike substance 
from the inner bark of trees for use during rituals (Lenz 1973 [1948], pp. 
101-104; Weitlaner and Hoppe 1969, p. 520). This substance is called paper, 
but it more closely resembles bark cloth. Also, the Totonac Indians just 
south of the Huasteca proper make some use of cut paper figures in their 
rituals, but the idea was probably borrowed from Otomis or Tepehuas farther 
north. In any case, the paper figures are apparently not important aspects 
of Totonac ritual (Ichon 1969, pp. 235-36). 

2. "Habia entre estos naturales cinco libros, como dije de figuras y carac- 
teres: el primero hablada de los anos y tiempos: el secundo de los dias y 
fiestas que tenian en todo el ano: el tercero que habla de los suenos y de los 
agueros, embaimientos y vanidades en que creian: el cuarto era del bautismo 
y nombres que daban a los ninos: el quinto es de los ritos, cerimonias y 
agueros que tenian en los matrimonios. . . . mucha orden y manera tenian 
de contar los mesmos tiempos y anos, fiestas y dias. . . . Ansimismo escribian 
y figuraban las hazanas e historias de guerra (y tambien) del subceso de los 
principales senores, de los temporales y pestilencias, y en que tiempo y de 
que senor acontecian, y todos los que subjetaron principalmente este tierra 
e se ensenorearon hasta que lo esparioles entraron. Todo esto tienen escrito 
por caracteres e figuras. 

"Este libro que digo se llama en lengua de estos indios xihutonal amatl, 
que quiere decir libro de la cuenta de los anos" (Motolinia 1971 [1536-41?], 
P. 5). 

3. "Usaba tambien este gente de ciertos caracteres o letras con las cuales 
escribian en sus libros sus cosas antiguas y sus ciencias, y con estas figuras 
y algunas senales des las mismas, entendian sus cosas y las daban a entender 
y ensenaban. Hallamosles gran numero de libros de estas sus letras, y porque 
no tenian cosa en que no hubiese supersticion y falsedades del demonio, se 
los quemamos todos, lo cual sintieron a maravilla y les dio mucha pena" 
(Landa 1938 [1566?], p. 207). 

4. Those mentioning tree bark include Anghiera 1912 [1530?], 2:40; Diaz 
del Castillo 1944 [1568-84], 3:242; Landa 1938 [1566?], p. 75; Sahagun 
1950-69 [1575-80?], pt. 12, bk. 9, p. 111. Those mentioning maguey leaves 


NOTES 303 

include Gomara 1943 [1544?], p. 292; Boturini Benaduci 1933 [1746], p. 95; 
Humboldt 1822, 2:480; Prescott 1843, 1:89. Those mentioning both sources 
include Hernandez 1959 [1571-76?], 1:83, 348; Motolinfa 1971 [1536-41?], 
p. 365. 

5. "Las echaban a podrir, y lavaban el hilo de ellas, el que ha viendose 
ablandado estendian, para componer su papel gruesso, 6 delgado, que despues 
bruiiian para pintar en el" (Boturini Benaduci 1933 [1746], pp. 95-96). 

6. "Nace en lose montes de Tepozt/an, donde con frequencia se mira 
hormiguear una multitud de obreros que fabrican de este arbol un papel 
no muy a proposito para escribir o trazar lineas, aunque no se corre en 
el la tinta, pero propio para envolturas y muy adecuado y util entre estos 
indios occidentals para celebrar las fiestas de los dioses, confeccionar las 
vestiduras sagradas, y para adornos funerarios. Se cortan solo las ramas 
gruesas de los arboles, dejando los renuevos; se maceran con agua y se dejan 
remojar durants la noche en los arroyos o rios. Al dia siguiente se les arranca 
la corteza, y, despues de limpiarla de la cuticula exterior, se extiende a golpes 
con una piedra plana pero surcada de algunas estrias, y que se sujeta con 
una vara be mimbre sin pulir doblada en circulo a manera de mango. Cede 
aquella madera flexible; se corta luego en trozos que, golpeados de nuevo 
con otra piedra mas plana, se unen facilmente entre si y se alisan; se dividen 
por ultimo en hojas de los palmos de largo y palmo y medio aproximadamente 
de ancho, que imitan nuestro papel mas grueso y corriente, pero son mas 
compactas y mas blancas, aunque muy inferiores a nuestro papel mas terso" 
(Hernandez 1959 [1571-76?], 1:83-84). 


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Adivinos: see shamans 
Adornments: Aztec, 9-12; bamboo forks, 
37ff.; coyoles (palm wands), 37; mari- 
gold rosaries or loops, 37ff., 103, 159; 
stars, 37, 39; types of, 37, 64-65; walk- 
ing sticks, 37ff., 208, 294; beds, mats, 
tortilla napkins, 38ff., 104, 123-28, 
155ff., 188-93,217,248,263,294; 
Nahua miscellaneous, 123-28; Otomi 
miscellaneous, 188-99; Tepehua 
miscellaneous, 239-48 
Agave genus: 18, 23 
Agente municipal '(political office): 

Tepehua, 211-12 
Agrarian Laws of 1915: 58 
Aguardiente {mm): 39ff., 102ff., 135, 

154ff., 189, 219ff., 242, 253, 284, 298 
Ahuizotl (Aztec emperor): 54 
Aires {airs): Otomi, 140, 142; see also judio 

spirits; malos aires (bad airs); winds 
All Souls': 66, 254, 296, 297; Nahua, 79, 
106; Otomi, 162; Tepehua, 206, 211, 
Altar adornments: see adornments 
Altars: Nahua-Otomi, for Xochitlalia, 
39ff.; design of Nahua-Otomi, 43, 48; 
Nahua, 77, 102ff.; design of Nahua, 
103-104, 128; Otomi, 137, 155ff.; 
design of Otomi, 191; Tepehua, 
217ff., 235 
Amaculi, Durango, village of: 15 
Amapala, Sinaloa, village of: 15 
Amaryllidaceae family: 18 
Amates (bark paper paintings): 265; 

popularity of, 32 
Amatitlan, Morelos, village of: 15 
Amatitan-caz, Puebla, village of: 15 
Amatl {paper): 13, 15; trees, 18, 24; used 

in codices, 25 
Amatlan (pseudonym), Veracruz, village 

of: 35-36, 70, 78, 85, 89 
Amayuca, Morelos, village of: 15 
Amazonco, Morelos, village of: 15 
Amecameca, Mexico, village of: 15 
Ancestor spirits: Nahua, 77, 104, 105, 

110; Otomi, 159 
Ancient God: Otomi, 133, 136, 138, 143 
Ancient Lord: Otomi, 157-58, 292 
Ancient Ones: Nahua, 78; Otomi, 138; 

Tepehua, 211, 236; Tepehua House 

of, 212, 247; see also Old Ones 
Animal companion spirits: Otomi, 139, 

163, 195, 283; Nahua, 283 
Animal sacrifice: 17, 42, 44; Otomi, 21; 

as common element in rituals, 64; 

Nahua, 102; Tepehua, 220ff.; by live 

burial, 223, 253-54; Nahua, 78; 

Otomi, 138; Tepehua, 223-24 
Animating principle: 253, 279; Nahua, 

74; Otomi, 135 
Animism: 63, 135, 199,217,235 
Apple spirits: Otomi, 186, 265 
Archaeological evidence: and pre- 

Hispanic civilizations, 7; for paper 

use, 11, 13 
Arrays: see altars 
Arrows: 294 
Ash Wednesday: 207 
Asia, Southeast: 14 
Astronomical observations: 258 
Attack diseases: see diseases 
Attack spirits: Otomi, 142, 193-94 
Attack wheel: Otomi, 159 
Augustinians: 17, 55-56 
Avocado spirits: Otomi, 187 
Axayacatl (Aztec emperor): 54 
Aztec Indians: 31, 54, 130, 203, 255, 279; 

as primary power, 6; writing system of, 

7; demand for paper by, 7ff.; and 

books, 8; paper use by, 15-16, 23; 

papermaking by, 18-19, 22; Nahua 

Indians as descendants of, 70 
Aztec Indians, contemporary: see Nahua 

Aztec religion, and syncretism: 56 

Bad airs: see malos aires (bad airs) 
Banana spirits: Otomi, 177-78, 188; 

Tepehua, 238-39 
Baptism: 154 




Bark cloth: 14; see also tapa cloth 

Bark paper: see paper; papermaking 

Bean spirits: Otomi, 171-73, 188 

Beards: 287 

Beehive spirits: Otomi, 182 

Bee swarm spirits: Otomi, 181-82; see 

also honeybee spirits 
Bell ringing: 43ff. 

Benaduci, Boturini: on maguey paper- 
making, 27 
Benavente, Toribio: see Motolinia 
Bicarbonate of calcium: 31 
Bird of the Eagle, Little: Otomi, 166 
Bird of the Monkey, Little: Otomi, 165 
Bird of the Mountain, Little: Otomi, 

156, 165 
Bird of the Star, Little: Otomi, 166 
Birds: 192, 281; Nahua nocturnal, 78; 

Otomi messenger, 139, 162-67 
Bird with Two Heads, Little: Otomi, 167 
Black Ones: Tepehua, 205 
Blood: 78, 206, 222, 253, 286; as food 

for spirits, 43, 48, 104, 145, 204, 298; 

and nocturnal birds, 78, 150, 281; see 

also paper, blood on Aztec; paper 

figures, blood on 
Body: 78, 286 

Boiles, Charles: 32,218,235 
Bones: 78, 286 
Bone setting: 68 
Books: in Nahuatl language, 8-9; sacred 

character of, 9; written by Otomi 

shamans, 33, 133, 153; see also codices 
Boxes or cabinets, wooden: see cabinets, 

Boys: see people 
Bread: 40ff., 104,221,223,298 
Brujos (witches): see witches 
Bull Snout: Otomi, 150 
Bundles: 17; contents of, 42; Nahua, 

102, 103, 113, 114, 124; Otomi, 155, 

159; Tepehua, 219ff., 238 

Cabinets, sacred: 21, 36ff., 67, 254, 285, 

294; Nahua, 114, 116; Otomi, 169; 

Tepehua, 206, 236; and group 

identity, 271 
Cabinets, wooden: see cabinets, sacred 
Camote spirits: Otomi, 180 
Candles: 39ff., 48, 155ff., 219ff., 240, 

253; beeswax, 37, 102, 104; white 

tallow, 41, 102 
Candle spirits: Tepehua, 235, 240 
Cargo system: 66, 137 
Carnaval{ Carnival): 53, 79, 107, 162, 

207, 226, 254, 296 
Castillo de Teayo, Veracruz, town of: 53 

Catholicism, Spanish: saints of, 65; 

observances of, 71; prayer of, 157; see 

also Christianity 
Caves, sacred: 64, 76-77, 252, 288, 290 
Celestial bodies symbol class: 258 
Celestial realm: see sky realm 
Chanting: by Nahua shamans, 35ff., 

102ff.; by Otomi shamans, 35ff., 154ff.; 

repetition in, 49; by Tepehua shamans 

and midwives, 219ff.; see also praying 
Charcoal: see paper figures, charcoal on 
Chayote spirits: Otomi, 187 
Chicamole, Hidalgo, village of: 198 
Chichimec peoples: 53 
Chicontepec, Veracruz, town of: 55 
Chicontepec region: 25, 26, 30 
Childbirth: 78, 149, 162, 201, 205, 208, 

254, 285, 289 
Chile spirit: Nahua, 114, 122; Otomi, 

175-76; Tepehua, 238 
Chintipan, Veracruz, village of: 200 
Cholula: 8 
Christensen, Bodil: 26, 31-32, 132, 

137-38, 250; on bark fiber paper- 
making, 30 
Christianity: 55, 153, 158, 160, 212, 298; 

influence on ritual calendar, 65-67; in 

San Pablito, 137; and pre-Hispanic 

beliefs, 251; and syncretism, 278; see 

also Catholicism, Spanish 
Christian liturgical calendar: 254; see also 

Cigarettes: see tobacco 
Cleansing rituals: see rituals 
Clothing, traditional: 62, 119; see also 

paper figures, clothing on 
Clothing symbol class: 295-96 
Coatlicue: Aztec, 143 
Codex Mendoza: 7 
Codices: 8-9, 15, 23, 24, 203, 258; see 

also books 
Coffee: 40ff., 104, 221-22, 298 
Coffee spirits: Otomi, 182-83 
Cold country: 60 
Color symbolism: 9, 293; Nahua, 83-85, 

123; Otomi, 153, 168; Tepehua, 203 
Comanche dancers: 54 
Comanche Indians: 53 
Composite categories: 273 
Congregations: 58 
Conquistadors: 69 
Continuous meaning: 273-74 
Cook, Sherburne F.: 57 
Copalera (incense dancer): 39ff. 
Copal incense: 17, 37ff., 104, 219ff., 244, 

253, 284; as sacralizing agent, 48, 74, 

101, 135; used in divination, 155; as 



Tepehua heart, 202, 287; as Tepehua 
bed, 222 

Core-adjunct composition: 274-75 

Corn: cobs, used in papermaking, 30; 
elotes, 297 \ see also maize spirits, rituals 

Cornbread: 298 

Cornmeal: 102ff., 159,298 

Cortes, Hernan: 54; mission of, 6; defeat 
of Aztecs by, 7; use of Aztec records 
for military campaigns, 7 

Cortesianu: (Maya codex): 24 

Costumbres (customs): 20, 35, 116, 137, 
199, 200, 211, 223, 255, 272; views of, 
32, 249; common elements of, 50; 
problematic characteristics of, 50, 247, 
251; definition of, 63; and syncretism, 
65; and pantheism, 276-80; inter- 
pretation of, 279-80 

Cougar: 139 

Crawlers and swimmers symbol class: 282 

Crop increase rituals: see rituals 

Crops: planting seasons of, 36; types of, 
61; see also specific names of crops 

Cross: shared symbolism of, 49; Otomi, 
136; Tepehua, 227, 229, 235 

Crossroads, sacred: 291; Nahua, 87 

Cross spirits: Nahua, 36ff.; Tepehua, 
220, 223, 234, 294 

Crowns: see headdresses or crowns 

Crystals: 293 

Cuilco, Chiapas, village of: 15 

Culture area: 62 

Curanderos (curers): see shamans 

Curing rituals: see rituals 

Dancing: 21, 46-47, 209; of copalera, 
39ff.; of shamans, 43ff., 155, 245; of 
midwives, 72-73 

Davies, Nigel: 54 

Dead, flowers of the: 284 

Dead, spirits of the: shared concept of, 
63, 252; Nahua, 75ff., 159; Otomi, 
140ff., 159, 290; Tepehua, 202ff., 
213ff., 230, 244, 291, 294; trials of 
Tepehua, 206 

Death: 107, 226, 254, 259 

Death, crowns of: Tepehua, 228, 244 

Death flower: 284 

Death spirit: Nahua, 79, 91, 100 

Deer spirit: Tepehua, 206, 282 

Demon: Nahua, 79; see also Devil 

Devil: Otomi, 17, 153, 297; Nahua, 75ff., 
129, 207, 282, 297; Christian, 80, 252; 
Tepehua, 204ff., 291, 292, 297; and 
syncretism, 278 

Devil, Lord: Otomi, 144-45, 265 

Devils: 23; Nahua, 79; Otomi, 140; 

Tepehua, 204, 207, 212-13 

Directions, four sacred: 48, 193, 222, 
259, 300 

Directions symbol class: 300 

Discontinuous meaning: 273-74 

Disease-prevention rituals: see rituals 

Diseases: causes of, 68, 134, 140, 218, 
252, 254, 267, 287; Nahua causes of, 
8 Iff.; Otomi causes of, 142ff., 154ff., 
163, 168; Tepehua causes of, 202, 
207, 212ff., 223ff., 245ff.; see also 
sickness symbol class 

Displays: see altars 

Divination: 12, 64; Nahua, 113; Otomi, 
154, 155 

Divine ritual specialists: Tepehua, 252 

Diviners: see shamans 

Domestic plants symbol class: 283 

Dow, James: 32, 135, 142 

Dreams: 134,201 

Dresdensis (Maya codex): 24 

Dresses: 295-96 

Drought: 36, 229 

Drums: 64, 196-97 

Drum spirits: Otomi, 196-97 

Eagles: and Otomi shamans, 139, 281; 

Otomi cornmeal, 156 
Eagle with Four Heads: Otomi, 164 
Ears: 261 

Earth, Aunt of the: Nahua, 129 
Earth, Belongings of the: Nahua, 129 
Earth, Edge of the: Nahua, 129 
Earth, Father: Nahua, 77, 102, 129; 

Tepehua, 206 
Earth, as a living creature: Nahua, 78 
Earth, Lord of the: Nahua, 129; 

Tepehua, 205, 291,299 
Earth, Queen of the Bad: Otomi, 138, 

143, 282, 290, 299 
Earth, Queen of the Good: Otomi, 137, 

156, 159,290,299 
Earth, Sacred: Otomi, 138; Tepehua, 205 
Earth, Wife of the Lord of the: Nahua, 

Earth, as a Whole: Nahua, 129 
Earth-Cross: Tepehua, 235 
Earth Mother: Nahua, 77, 129, 252; 

Otomi, 132, 136, 137, 143, 157-58, 

159, 290, 297; Tepehua, 205 
Earth Place: Nahua, 129 
Earth realm: shared concept of, 65; 

Nahua, 75ff., 102, 110, 113, 128, 282, 

290; and frontality, 128; Otomi, 133, 

138, 143, 166, 290; Tepehua, 205, 

242, 252, 291 
Earth spirits: 50, 223, 252; Nahua, 36, 



77, 129, 283, 286, 290, 298; impor- 
tance of, 49; Otomi, 199, 283, 291; 
Tepehua, 20 Iff., 212, 218ff., 230ft, 
247, 284, 291 

Earth's Surface: Nahua, 77, 129, 290 

Earth symbol class: 290-91 

Eggs: 40ft, 80, 102, 156, 157 

Ehecatl-Quetzalcoatl: Aztec, 232 

Ejecatl (gust of wind): see winds 

Ejidos: 58-59 

Elementary categories: 273 

Emblems: 275 

Emerson, Ralph Waldo: 249, 276 

Rncomiendas: 57 

Ethnic groups symbol class: 298 

Ethos symbol class: 299 

Face painting and masks symbol class: 

Falling water symbol class: 288 
Famine: 54, 236 

Father of Our Lord: Tepehua, 204 
Fertility: 35ft, 168, 286, 291, 292; and 

young girls, 48; and Tonantsi, 76, 80; 

and moon, 136; and Virgin Mary, 

138, 204-205; and earth spirits, 252; 

and frontality, 128, 259 
Fertility rituals: see rituals 
Ficus genus: 13, 18,22,25,28 
Field spirits: Otomi, 138 
Figurines, prehistoric: Tepehua use of, 

Filth: see pollution 
Fire, Adorned: Nahua, 76 
Fire, Grandfather: Otomi, 136, 294 
Fire, Sacred: Tepehua, 205, 290 
Fireplace stones: 76, 103, 129, 136, 205, 

289, 294 
Fire spirits: 251 ; Aztec, 11, 1 36; Nahua, 

36, 38, 45, 76, 129, 289; symbolism of, 

49; Otomi, 136, 290; Tepehua, 233; 

see also health spirits 
Fire symbol class: 289 
Fitl, Regina: 32, 158,258 
Five-Flower: Aztec, 284; Nahua, 284 
Flower of god: Tepehua, 242 
Flower Prince: Aztec, 284 
Flowers symbol class: 284 
Flowery Earth rituals: see rituals 
Flowery Wind: Nahua, 83, 284, 288 
Food, as marker of class: 297 
Four-legged walkers or mammals symbol 

class: 282 
Four-Movement: Aztec, 279 
Foxes: 139,282 
Frontality: Nahua, 128; Otomi, 152, 

168; pre-Hispanic, 257-59, 262 

Funerals: see rituals 
Furniture: see paper figures, furniture 
and furnishings for 

Galinier, Jacques: 32, 132, 300 
Garcia, Alfonso: 33, 131, 153, 158 
Garcia, Santos: 33, 131, 143 
General Owner: Tepehua, 204 
Genitals: 262, 286-87 
Geographic aspects of the earth symbol 

class: 291 
Geometric designs symbol class: 300 
Germany: 24 
Gessain, Robert: 33, 228, 248; collects 

first Tepehua paper figures, 200 
Girls: see people 
Golden Hill: Tepehua, 208-1 1, 222, 

225, 228, 246-47, 252, 292, 296-97 
Gossip: 63, 93 
Grape spirits: Otomi, 186 
Graveyards: Nahua, 79; Tepehua, 217 
Guardian of the Sky: Otomi, 167 
Guardian spirits: Nahua, 77, 108-13, 

167; see also guardian witness spirits; 

house guardian spirits; intermediary 

or messenger spirits; witness spirits 
Guardian stars: see star spirits 
Guardian witness spirits: Nahua, 109-10, 

113; see also guardian spirits 
Guerrero, state of: 32, 265 
Gulf Coast: 53, 54; population decline 

of, 57 
Gulf of Mexico: 61 
Guzman, Nuno de: 56-57 

Haciendas: 57-58 

Hail: 208 

Hair: 295 

Hats: 295 

Headdresses, crowns: 85, 123, 204, 218, 

239-40, 262, 264, 295-96; Tepehua 

crowns of death, 227, 244; Tepehua 

crown of the sorcerer, 245; Tepehua 

pyramid, 246 
Heads: 286-87 
Hearth God: Otomi, 136 
Hearth spirits: 294; Nahua, 103; Otomi, 

138, 161; Aztec, 234; see also fire 

Heart of god: Tepehua, 242 
Heart of the World: Otomi, 162 
Hearts: 286-87; Nahua, 74, 78 
Heat: Nahua, 74 
Hell, President of: Otomi, 144, 150, 153, 

265, 297 
Herbai medicine: 68 
Herbs, sacred: 39, 102,224,284 



Hernandez, Francisco: on bark fiber 

papermaking, 28 
Hidalgo, state of: 24, 52, 61,255 
High god: Otomi, 1 36 
Hills, mountains, sacred: 36, 64, 252, 

290; Nahua, 77, 104, 110; Otomi, 166; 

Tepehua, 208-11,236 
Historical culture heroes symbol class: 

Holidays: list of, 66-67 
Holy Spirit: 157 
Honduras: 25 
Honey: 181 
Honeybee spirits: Otomi, 169; see also 

bee swarm spirits 
Horse Snout: Otomi, 149-51 
Horticulture: 56, 59, 269 
Hot country: 60 
Hough, Walter: 23 
House guardian spirits: as fire spirits, 49; 

Nahua, 101, 103, 105; see a/so guardian 

Household equipment and furniture 

symbol class: 294 
House spirits: Nahua, 77 \ Otomi, 138; 

Tepehua, 226, 235, 246 
Huasteca region: 19, 25, 26, 31, 48-49, 

52-69, 147; planting seasons in, 36, 

61; Cortes in, 54; population decline 

of, 56, 255; geography of, 59-61; 

cultural similarities in, 62, 69; religious 

similarities in, 63ff., 73 
Huauchinango, Puebla, town of: 53 
Huehueteotl: Aztec, 136, 234 
Huehuetla, Hidalgo, village of: 21, 33, 

Huitzilopochtli: 9, 296 
Human settlements and numerology 

symbol class: 301 
Humboldt, Alexander von: 27 
Hunt, Eva: 255-56,281 
Hunter, Dard: 24, 31, 250; on bark fiber 

papermaking, 29 

Icons: 272-74 

Idolatry: 17, 250 

Incense: see copal incense 

Incense dancer: see copalera (incense 

Incest: 99 
Indians: see specific Indian groups, e.g., 

Nahua Indians 
Industrially manufactured paper: see 

Inner planets symbol class: 292 
Inquisition: 17 
Intermediary of messenger spirits: pre- 

Hispanic, 11; paper as, 12; Nahua, 77, 
109; Tepehua, 209-11, 224; shared 
concept of, 252; see also guardian 
spirits; witness spirits 

Ixhuatlan de Madero, Veracruz, 
municipio of: 70, 200 

Ixtololoya, Puebla, village of: 22 

Jaguar spirits: Otomi, 139, 195, 282; 
Tepehua, 204, 294 

Jealousy: 143, 243-44, 259, 267, 285 

Jesus Christ: Nahua, 75, 81, 136, 298; 
Otomi, 136, 157, 160, 163; Tepehua, 
204, 208, 21 1, 231, 247; shared concept 
of, 252, 291-92 

Jicama spirits: Otomi, 181 

Jorongos (ponchos): 295 

Judas: 145 

Judio, Senor de: Otomi, 144, 153, 265 

Judio spirits: Nahua, 79; definition of 
Otomi, 140; Otomi, 140ff., 154ff., 189, 
212; nature of Otomi, 152; portrayal 
of Otomi, 152, 261, 264, 265; see also 
aires (airs); malos aires (bad airs); winds 

Jupiter and Saturn symbol class: 293 

Kaupp, Robert: 32, 137 
Kinship svmbol class: 298 
Klein, Cecelia: 128, 153,259 
Koeppen svstem of climatic classification: 

Lakes, sacred: 21, 64, 252, 291; Tepehua, 

Landa, Diego de: 16 
Lannik, William: 32 
Last Supper: 211, 247 
Latex: 9-11 
Lenz, Hans: 31-32, 70, 132, 142, 192, 

250; searches for Indian papermaking, 

Leon, Nicolas: 25, 31 
Libraries, pre-Hispanic: 8 
Life-force: 279; Nahua, 14, 78, 253; 

Otomi, 134, 253; Tepehua, 230, 241 
Lightning, Lord of: Otomi, 146-47, 148, 

Lightning Bolts, Lord of: Otomi, 147, 

Lightning spirits: Nahua, 36, 41, 48, 50, 

77, 288, 294; Tepehua, 208; Otomi, 

Lime water: 29-30; see also lyewater 
Lion spirit: Otomi, 152, 156, 195 
Live burial: see animal sacrifice, by live 

Locations, sacred: 102, 291 



Lopez, Antonio: 33, 133, 136, 153ff. 
Love magic: see rituals 
Lyewater: 28; see also lime water 

Machetes: 294 

Magic: sympathetic, 45; see also rituals 

Maguey: 13, 18, 22-24, 27; used in 

codices: 25 
Maize, Lord of the Young: Aztec, 1 16 
Maize rituals: see rituals 
Maize spirits: Nahua, 38, 115-21, 283, 

286; Otomi, 138, 170-71; Tepehua, 


Malos aires (bad airs): Nahua, 40ff., 79; 

definition and shared concept of, 68, 

217-18, 252; Otomi, 140, 189, 296-97; 

Tepehua, 206-207, 212-18, 223-24, 

292, 296; portrayal of Tepehua, 212, 

218; see also winds 
Malos viento: (bad winds): see winds 
Mango spirits: Otomi, 187 
Manrique, Leonardo: 131, 250 
Marbles: Otomi cornmeal, 156 
Marigold flowers: 37, 156, 253, 284 
Marigold rosaries or loops: see adornments 
Marijuana, use of: 80, 134, 197, 242, 284 
Marijuana spirits: Nahua, 80; Otomi, 

140, 197; Tepehua, 206, 222, 226, 242 
Mankind symbol class: 282 
Markets: 61; see also tourist trade and 

tourist markets 
Mars symbol class: 293 
Masked dancers: Nahua, 79; Tepehua, 

Masks: 296 
Mass: 65, 137 

Mathematical orders symbol class: 300 
Maya Indians: and books, 8; paper- 
making by, 13, 18, 24; use of paper 

by, 14-16 
Mayordomo (political office): Tepehua, 

Men: see people 

Mendezuma, Senor: see Moctezuma 
Mendoza, Don Antonio de: 7 
Menstrual cycle: 75, 136, 204, 292 
Mercury symbol class: 293 
Messenger birds: see birds 
Messenger spirits: see intermediary or 

messenger spirits 
Meteors or meteorites: Nahua, 76; 

Tepehua, 204-205 
Mexica: see Aztec Indians 
Mexican War of Independence: 58 
Mexico, state of: 19 
Mictlan: see underworld realm, Nahua 

Mictlantecutli: 255 

Middle American civilizations: 6-7; 

paper use in, 12-13 
Midwifery: 68 
Midwives: Nahua, 39, 72; Tepehua, 

200-202, 205, 219ff; Tepehua Great, 

202, 209; Aztec, 296; see also shamans 
Minerals symbol class: 293 
Miranda, Faustino: 27 
Mirrors: 113,293 
Missionaries: 17, 47, 52, 140, 160, 211, 

213; failure of, 55-56; traditional 

religion concealed from, 65, 71, 212 
Mixtec Indians: 8 
Moctezuma: Otomi, 3, 20, 138, 147, 

161, 290, 291; Nahua, 77, 81, 290, 

298; Tepehua, 205, 215, 218ff., 230, 

291; shared concept of, 252 
Moctezuma I (Aztec emperor): 54 
Moctezuma II (Aztec emperor): see 

Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (Aztec 

Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (Aztec 

emperor): 54, 77, 147 
Mole (sauce): 157,297 
Mollusk shells: 282, 295 
Monnich, Anneliese: 256 
Monotheism: 275, 278 
Montezuma: see Moctezuma 
Montoya Briones, Jose de Jesus: 33 
Moon spirits: Otomi, 17, 136, 292; 

Nahua, 75, 129, 292; Tepehua, 204, 

207, 213, 287, 292, 299; shared concept 

of, 251 
Moon symbol class: 292 
Moraceae family: 13, 18, 22, 27 
Moral species: 21 
Moms genus: 1 3 
Motecuhzoma: see Moctezuma 
Mother of Our Lord: Tepehua, 204 
Motolinia (Toribio Benavente): 8 
Mountain, Lord of the: Otomi, 139, 

156ff., 159, 162ff., 195, 206, 274, 281, 

297; Tepehua, 206; shared concept of, 

Mountain, Napkins of the: Otomi, 156, 

Mountains, sacred: see hills or mountains, 

Mountain spirits: Otomi, 17, 160-68, 252 
Moving of the Things: Tepehua, 279 
Mulberry: 13,22,28 
Munecas (female dolls): Tepehua, 202, 

219ff., 287 
Munecos (dolls): 20, 202, 219ff.; see also 

paper figures 
Munn, Nancy: 271-75 



Music, sacred: 37ff., 64, 155, 253 
Musical instruments: 294 
Musicians, sacred: Tepehua, 209 
Myths: shared, 68; Nahua, 80-81; 

Tepehua, 200, 208, 231; pre-Hispanic, 


Nagual, Lord: Otomi, 142, 149 

Naguals: Nahua, 78; Otomi, 150; shared 
concept of, 253, 281 

Nahua Indians: 31, 32-34, 254; use of 
paper by, 5, 32-34; papermaking by, 
25, 26; bark paper paintings by, 32; 
as remnants of Aztec empire, 33; 
arrival in Huasteca of, 53; and culture 
change, 69; indirectness of, 106 

Nahua religion: 34, 250; pantheon, 64, 
75-81, 128-29, 251-52; list of spirits 
in pantheon, 82-83; world view, 98, 
266; comparison to Otomi and 
Tepehua, 251-56; reasons for 
similarities, 254-55 

Names and language transformations 
symbol class: 297-301 

New Spain (Mexico): 7 

Night, Lord of the: Nahua, 79; Otomi, 
144-46, 152 

North America: 53 

Noses: 261, 287 

Numerology and signs symbol class: 
256-57, 301 

Oaxaca religion: 17 

Offerings: see ritual offerings 

Oil exploration: 69 

Old God: Aztec, 234 

Old Ones: Nahua, 77; Tepehua, 208, 
247, 286, 288-89, 294, 297; Tepehua, 
house of the, 208; see also Ancient Ones 

Orange spirits: Otomi, 185 

Order of the Otomi: 130 

Otomi Indians: 31, 255; bark paper 
papermaking by, 5, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26; 
use of paper by, 5; survival of pre- 
Hispanic religion among, 17; use of 
wooden, stone, or ceramic figurines 
by, 21; economic importance of paper 
for, 32; arrival in Huasteca of, 53; and 
culture change, 69; reputation of, 130 

Otomi religion: 22, 33-34, 132-33, 250; 
revitalization of, 32; pantheon, 64, 
135-42, 199, 251-52; world view, 132, 
199, 266; categories of spirits in 
pantheon, 135; list of spirits in 
pantheon, 141-42; comparison to 
Nahua and Tepehua, 251-55; reasons 
for similarities, 254 

Our Honored Deity: Nahua, 75 
Our Sacred Mother: Nahua, 76, 129 
Outer planets symbol class: 293 
Owl Man: Nahua, 79, 91-92, 207, 281 
Owls: 79, 139,207,281 

Pagan practices and paganism: 19, 131, 

Pahuatlan, Puebla, town of: 19, 55 

Palm, Raymond: 32 

Palm nut spirits: Nahua, 114, 122; 
Otomi, 186 

Pantepec, Puebla, village of: 21 

Pantheism: 275ff.; and syncretism, 278 

Pants: 295-96 

Panuco region: 56 

Papaya spirits: Otomi, 184 

Papel de brujo (witch paper): see paper 

Papel de China (China paper): see paper, 
use of industrially manufactured 

Paper: use of industrially manufactured, 
5, 20, 33, 168, 188, 203; Aztec demand 
for and uses of, 7-12, 54; blood on 
Aztec, 11; and present-day place- 
names, 14; loss of, 15-17; use of bark, 
18-20,24, 153, 168, 188; varieties 
made by Otomi Indians, 21; pre- 
Hispanic finishes for, 30; see also 

Paper beaters: 13,28, 30 

Paper figures: discovery of, 3, 22, 24, 
34, 200; blood on, 17, 20, 42, 44, 
154ff., 203, 216, 220-21; anthropo- 
morphic core of, 22, 67, 100, 263-64, 
275, 278, 283, 286-87; and communi- 
cation, 34; as focus of ritual activity, 
34, 49, 51, 67; clothing on, 36ff., 
67-68, 85, 169, 236, 254, 295-96; 
furniture and furnishings for, 36, 38, 
68, 169, 294-95; charcoal on, 38, 39, 
296; repetition in, 49; categories of 
Nahua, 70-71; in Nahuatl language, 
73-74; list of, for Nahua disease- 
prevention ritual, 95, 101-102, 
104-105; stylistic comparisons of, 100, 
188, 212, 239, 248, 259-64; symmetry 
of, 101, 261; categories of Otomi, 130; 
in Otomi language, 134-35; list of, in 
Otomi curing ritual, 153-57; spitting 
on, 155, 220, 224; of domesticated 
animals, 169, 22 Iff.; categories of 
Tepehua, 200-201; in Tepehua 
language, 202; as guides for shamans, 
203; in male-female pairs, 215-18, 264; 
list of, for Tepehua curing ritual, 220; 
as intellectual achievements, 259; as 
tangible representations, 266-67; and 



group identity, 270-71; and social 
control, 271; analysis of design 
elements of, 272-75; see also munecos 

Paper images: see paper figures 

Papermaking: search for and discovery 
of, 3-4, 19-27; in San Pablito, 3, 
21-22, 31, 264-65; invention of, 
12-13; fiber sources for, 13, 18-19, 
26-27; appearance in highland Mexico 
of, 14; diffusion from southeast Asia, 
14; archaeological evidence for, 13-14; 
and present-day place-names, 14-15; 
decline of, 16-17; controversy over 
fiber sources for, 18-27, 31; techniques 
for maguey paper, 27; techniques for 
bark fiber, 27-31; see also paper 

Paper manufacture: see papermaking 

Parts of body symbol class: 286-87 

Patient spirits: Otomi, 156, 157-60, 
193-95, 294; Tepehua, 225 

Patroness of Women: Tepehua, 204-205 

Peanut spirits: Otomi, 179 

People: role of Nahua girls in fertility 
rituals, 39ff., 76; dress of Nahua girls, 
119; dress of Nahua men and boys, 
120; good Otomi men, 133, 189-90; 
good Otomi women, 189-90; good 
Otomi people, 194; bad Otomi people, 
194; Tepehua man, 241; symbolic life 
cycle of, 286 

Peresianus (Maya codex): 24 

Persons of knowledge: see shamans 

Pilgrimages: 21, 64 

Pineapple spirits: Otomi, 183-84, 265 

Pisa Flores, Veracruz, village of: 200, 207 

Pixcal { political office): Tepehua, 211 

Plants, sacred: see herbs, sacred 

Pleiades: 293 

Pochtecas (traveling merchants): 1 1 

Pockets: 295 

Pollution: 99, 252 

Polychrome Winds of Cultivation: 
Nahua, 83, 288 

Polytheism: 275ff. 

Pomegranate spirits: Otomi, 185, 265 

Potato spirits: Otomi, 180 

Powerful plants and plant parts symbol 
class: 284; see also herbs, sacred 

Praying: by Tepehua shaman and 
midwife, 219ff.; see also chanting 

Priest, place of the: Tepehua, 21 1 

Professions symbol class: 296-97 

Provost, Paul: 33 

Puebla, state of: 52,61,255 

Pure Queen: Tepehua: 208 

Pyramids: see ruins, pre-Hispanic 

Rain: 36ff., 60, 65, 192, 252, 288-89; 
Otomi cause of, 21, 139, 157, 161; 
Nahua cause of, 41, 45, 80; Tepehua 
cause of, 208, 226, 232, 247 

Rainbow: Otomi, 148, 149 

Rattles: 39ff., 64 

Religion, contemporary: see costumbres 
(customs); see also specific Indian 
religions, e.g., Nahua religion 

Religion, pre-Hispanic: Spanish policy 
towards, 16-17; survival in rural areas, 
17; and syncretism, 56, 278; and 
Christianity, 251; characteristics of, 
256; comparison of symbols in, to 
contemporary, 256-58 

Reyes Garcia, Luis: 33, 255 

Ritual offerings: of coins, 20, 45; types 
of, 43, 50, 102, 104, 114, 154ff., 219, 
224, 253; see also specific items, e.g., 

Rituals: cleansing/curing/disease- 
prevention, 21, 39ff., 100-106, 152, 
153-60, 212ff., 218-25, 252; planting/ 
harvest, 21, 105-106, 114, 161,254; 
crop fertilitv/crop-increase, 35-50, 
106, 114, 159, 169, 225, 236; Nahua- 
Otomi Xochitlalia (Flowerv Earth), 
35-51, 106, 1 17; ambience of, 47; as 
exchange, 47-48; as models, 49; 
elements of, 50, 64, 104, 223; purpose 
of, 63; calendar of, 65-67, 254, 286, 
300-301; structure of, 63, 105, 159, 
223; love magic, 68, 161, 198-99, 226, 
243-44, 262, 285; funeral, 74, 107, 
162, 226; Nahua Causing Birth 
fertility, 76, 106; indirectness in, 
105-106; list of major Nahua, 106-108; 
maize, 106, 114, 225; Otomi, for 
churches, 137; comparison of, 158-59, 
223-25, 254; list of major Otomi, 
160-62; Otomi, for the Mountain, 
191; Tepehua animal cleansing, 2 2 1 ff . ; 
Tepehua washing, 220ff.; list of major 
Tepehua, 225-26; Tepehua, to pay 
back the earth, 234; Tepehua, to go 
and get rid of the dead, 244; and group 
identity, 271; see also costumbres 
(customs); divination 

Ritual specialists: see shamans 

Ruins, pre-Hispanic: 64, 78, 79, 93, 129, 
246, 288 

Rum: see aguardiente (rum) 

Sacred Lady: Otomi, 138, 290, 299 
Sacred Rose: see Santa Rosa; see also 

marijuana spirits 
Sahagun, Bernardino de: 10-12, 22, 31, 



47, 130 

Saint Bark Paper Fiber: 32 

Saint John the Baptist: shared concept of, 
65; Nahua, 80-8 1 ; see also San Juan 

Saint Joseph: 204 

Saint Martin the Lesser: 32 

Saint Rose of Lima: 80, 197 

Saints, Catholic or Christian: 50, 251, 
297; and paper, 65, 133; list of days 
and celebrations of, 66-67; Nahua, 76; 
Otomi, 137; Tepehua, 211; and syn- 
cretism, 278; see also Catholicism, 
Spanish; Christianity 

Sanders, William: 57 

Sandstrom, Alan: 33, 137-38 

San Gregorio, Hidalgo, village of: 19, 22 

San Jonote: 32 

San Juan: Nahua, 80, 289, 298; Tepehua, 
208, 247, 289, 294; and syncretism, 
278; see also Saint John the Baptist 

San Pablito, Puebla, village of: 19, 21, 
22,25,30,69, 131, 139-40, 143, 
153-54, 158, 165, 168-69,261-65; 
and tourist trade, see tourist trade and 
tourist markets; papermaking in, see 

Santacena, Senor: Tepehua, 21 1 

Santa Rosa: Nahua, 80, 284, 289; Otomi, 
134, 140, 197, 284, 289; Tepehua, 
206, 222, 225-26, 242, 252, 291; and 
syncretism, 278 

Santasoma: see Moctezuma 

Schwede, Rudolph: 24-26 

Seeds, Shadows of the: Tepehua, 236 

Seed spirits: Nahua, 36ff., 76-77, 

1 14-23, 283-84, 298; shared concept 
and portrayal of, 67, 239, 252, 254; 
nature of Nahua, 1 14; Otomi, 1 14, 
123, 138-39, 168-88, 283; Tepehua, 

Seler, Eduard: 25 

Serena, La: Tepehua, 208, 281, 289 

Sereno, El: Tepehua, 207-208, 247, 282, 

Seven-Flower: Nahua, 77, 114, 129, 283, 
284; Aztec, 116 

Seven-Sky: Nahua, 76 

Seven-Star: Nahua, 293 

Seven-Wind: Nahua, 83, 288 

Sex Symbol class: 285 

Shadow: Nahua, 74; Otomi, 135; 

Tepehua, 203; shared concept of, 253 

Shadow-soul: Otomi, 135 

Shamans: 63, 67-69, 252; ritual per- 
formances of, 35ff., lOlff., 154ff., 
219ff.; shared roles of, 35ff., 69, 73, 
254, 268; characteristics of, 47; 

apprenticeships of, 72, 134; innovations 
of, 73, 85, 188, 218, 260; Nahua, 
72-74; Otomi, 134-35, 139, 195; 
reputation of Otomi, 160, 199; 
Tepehua, 201-203, 227; Tepehua 
Great Diviner spirits of, 202, 205, 209, 
297; Tepehua, with copal incense 
brazier on his head, 244-45; Tepehua, 
dancing on the head of a devil, 245; 
as artists, 260; see also midwives 

She has Seven Thoughts: Tepehua, 242 

Shoes: Nahua, 86, 108, 112, 116, 295; 
Otomi, 100, 194, 295; Tepehua, 230 

Shrines: types of Tepehua, 21 1 

Shrine spirits: Tepehua, 219ff., 246-47 

Sicknesses: see diseases 

Sickness symbol class: 287 

Sierra Madre Oriental: 19, 52-53 

Sierra Norte de Puebla: 19, 133 

Simpson, Lesley Byrd: 57 

Siren, Lord: Otomi, 133 

Siren, Red: Tepehua, 204 

Siren, Wicked: Otomi, 139, 148, 289 

Siren, Yellow: Tepehua, 204 

Sirena, La: Otomi, 21, 197; Nahua, 80 

Siren of the Lake: Otomi, 133, 139, 289 

Skeleton: Nahua, 79, 91; Tepehua, 244 

Skull deformation: 261-62 

Sky realm: shared characteristics of, 65; 
Nahua, 75ff., 86, 89, 95-96, 99, 102, 
129; Otomi, 132-33, 136, 138, 166-67; 
Tepehua, 203 

Snakes: 282 

Sorcerers: shared concept of, 63, 253; 
Nahua, 73, 78; Otomi, 134, 139, 
142-43, 149-50, 281-82; Tepehua, 
202, 241; Tepehua crowns of the, 245 

Sorcery: 20-21, 68, 74, 134, 139, 154 

Soul: Nahua, 74, 135, 279, 283; Otomi, 
135; Tepehua, 203; fate of the, 207, 
287; shared concept of, 253 

Soul loss: Otomi, 160, 287; Tepehua, 

Southeast Asia: 14 

Spanish conquest: 51, 77, 255, 258 

Spines: 295 

Spirit: Otomi, 135; Tepehua, 203; shared 
concept of, 253; see also soul 

Spranz, Bodo: 32, 193 

Springs, sacred: 291 

Squash spirit: Nahua, 114, 121 

Stages of growth and ages of man symbol 
class: 114, 286; see also people 

Star, Shadow of the: Tepehua, 203 

Star guardians: see star spirits 

Star of the Mountain, Napkin of the: 
Otomi, 192 



Starr, Frederick: 3ff., 47, 54, 117, 131, 

139, 158, 200, 250, 255, 262; discovery 

of papermaking by, 3, 21-22; discovery 

of paper figures by, 3, 18, 21-22; 

Mexican expeditions of, 19-24; and 

fiber controversy, 23; on bark fiber 

papermaking, 27-29 
Stars: Otomi cornmeal, 156; Otomi 

motif of, 192 
Stars, shooting: Tepehua, 205 
Stars and constellations symbol class: 

Star spirits: as Nahua guardians, 76, 125; 

as Tepehua guardians, 201, 204, 

232-33, 245, 294; Tepehua, 207, 209, 

220ff., 235, 247; shared concept of, 

Stereotypes: 255 
Stomachs: 286-87 
Sugarcane spirits: Otomi, 178-79 
Sumus Indians: 25 
Sun: symbolized by cross, 49, 136, 227, 

229; and animating principle, 279 
Sun, Father: Nahua, 75 
Sun, red: Tepehua, 228 
Sun-Christ: Tepehua, 211, 227, 234, 247 
Sun God: Otomi, 136 
Sun place: Tepehua, 211-12, 246 
Sun spirits: Nahua, 75, 136, 282-83, 

291, 298; Otomi, 17, 196, 283, 292; 

Tepehua, 203, 207, 209-11,212, 

227-28, 229, 247, 283, 292, 299; 

shared concept of, 252 
Sun symbol class: 291-92 
Superstition: 16, 249 
Surface water symbol class: 289 
Swords: 294 
Symbol classes: definition of, 256, 258; 

list of, 257-58; examples of, 281-301; 

see a Iso specific classes, e.g., sun 

symbol class 
Symbols: 272 

Symbol systems, sacred: 256-58 
Syncretism, religious: 34, 212; pre- 

Hispanic, 56; definition of, 65; 

examples of, 76, 80, 136, 247; and 

pantheism, 278 

Tables, Great: Tepehua, 209, 211, 297 

Tamales: 104, 297 

Tampico, Tamaulipas, city of: 53 

Tapa cloth: 13; see also bark cloth 

Tatkon, Marsha: 32 

Teeth: 287 

Temperate country: 60-61 

Tenochtitlan: 8 

Teotihuacan: 11,14 

Tepehua Indians: 19, 31, 33-34, 255; 

use of paper by, 5-6, 33-34; use of 

stone and ceramic figurines by, 21; 

history of, in Huasteca, 53; and culture 

change, 69 
Tepehua religion: 34, 250; pantheon, 

64-65, 203-12, 247, 251-53; list of 

spirits in pantheon, 209-10; world 

view, 217, 266; comparison to Nahua 

and Otomi, 251-55; reasons for 

similarities, 254-55 
Teponaztli (slit drum): see drums 
Tepoztlan, Morelos, town of: 28 
Texcoco: 8 

Thorn plant spirits: Otomi, 185 
Thorny twig: 156 

Thunder, Lord of: Otomi, 146-48, 151 
Thunderclaps: 295 
Thunder spirits: Nahua, 36ff., 77, 288, 

294; Otomi, 294; Tepehua, 208, 239, 

Tissue paper: see paper, use of industrially 

Tizoc (Aztec emperor): 54 
Tlacuiloca, Tlaxcala, village of: 15 
Tlacuilotepec, Puebla, village of: 15 
Tlaloc: 255, 288 
Tlatelolco: 16 

Tobacco: 40ff., 102ff., 114, 222, 253, 284 
Toes: 286 
Tolstoy, Paul: 14 

Toltec Indians: 13, 53; and books, 8 
Tomato spirits: Otomi, 173-75 
Tonalism: 139 
Tonantsi: Nahua, 76, 80, 114, 129, 138, 

286, 292, 297-98 
Tongues: 287 

Tools and weapons symbol class: 294 
Tortillas: 298 
Totonac Indians: 19, 52-54, 255; use of 

bark fibers, 20-21 
Totonacapan region: 52 
Tourist trade and tourist markets: and 

paper, 31-32; effects on San Pablito 

Otomis, 32, 131, 153, 168, 188, 192; 

and revitalization of papermaking and 

paper cutting, 265; see also markets 
Tree, Lord of the: Otomi, 156, 159 
Trees, papermaking: see papermaking, 

fiber sources for 
Trees and bushes symbol class: 285 
Trinity: 278 

Troanus (Maya codex): 24 
Tropic of. Cancer: 59 
Turkey: Otomi cornmeal, 156 
Tutotepec region: 17 
Tuxpan, Veracruz, town of: 53 



Two-Shrine: Otomi, 138, 192, 289, 291 
Tzimatla, Veracruz, village of: 196 

Underworld realm: Nahua, 41, 75ff., 
102, 128, 281-82, 290; shared 
characteristics of, 65, 252; Otomi, 
133, 140, 144, 152, 290; Tepehua, 
205-206, 217, 291, 297 

Unity, principle of: 249, 275, 278 

Valentini, Phillip J. J.: 18,24 

Venus symbol class: 293 

Veracruz, state of: 26, 34, 52, 55, 70, 93, 
255, 260; population decline in, 57; and 
remnants of land-holding villages, 58 

Virgin Mary or Virgin of Guadalupe: 
Nahua, 76; Otomi, 138; Tepehua, 
204-205, 221, 224-25, 231, 247; shared 
concept of, 251 

Visible spectrum symbol class: 293 

Vision specialists: Otomi, 134 

Visual categories: 273 

Visual elements: 272 

Visual representations: 49-50 

Volatiles svmbol class: 281 

Von Hagen, Victor W.: 15, 24-27, 31-33, 

Water, Girl of the: Tepehua, 208, 231, 

282, 289 
Water, Lady of the: Nahua, 75, 80, 282, 

288-89, 296; Otomi, 139, 282, 289; 

shared concept of, 252 
Water, Lord of the: Tepehua, 208, 231, 

289, 297, 299 
Water bearers or carriers: Tepehua, 208, 

247, 289 
Water realm: shared characteristics of, 

65; Nahua, 75, 80-81, 89ff., 129, 242, 

289; Otomi, 133, 139,242,289; 

Tepehua, 209, 289 
Water spirits: Otomi, 17, 156, 197, 283, 

287; Nahua, 36ff., 283, 287, 298; 
Tepehua, 205ff., 212, 220ff., 235, 239, 
247, 284; shared concept of, 252 

Well spirits: Otomi, 139, 289 

Westernization, process of: 62-63 

Whirlwinds: 207, 288 

Williams Garcia, Roberto: 33-34, 70, 
200-201, 211-13, 217-19, 224, 227ff. 

Wind, Lord of the: Tepehua, 205, 223, 

Winds: Nahua, 38, 48, 79, 81-100, 152, 
159, 212, 288; nature of Nahua, 43, 
81-82, 99; concept in Latin America, 
68, 81; definition of Nahua, 81; list of 
Nahua, 84-85; portrayal of Nahua, 
85, 100, 152, 264; techniques for 
removal of Nahua, 105; Tepehua, 
206-207, 219-20, 222, 288; Otomi, 
288; see also aires (airs); judio spirits; 
malos aires (bad airs) 

Winter solstice: 76, 106, 286, 298 

Witchcraft: see sorcery 

Witches: Tepehua, 202 

Witness spirits: Nahua, 77, 103-104, 
106-13, 167, 224, 252, 286; definition 
of, 109-10; see also guardian spirits; 
guardian witness spirits; intermediary 
or messenger spirits 

Women: see people 

Wood, sacred: 285 

Wooden cabinets or boxes: see cabinets, 

Wrathful One: Nahua, 79 

Xalapa, Hidalgo, village of: 22 
Xochipilli: Aztec, 116 
Xochitlalia (Flowery Earth) ritual: see 

Zapote, El, Veracruz, village of: 196-97 
Zapotec Indians: and books, 8 
Zumarraga, Juan de: 16 

ists, students of curing rituals and fc 
art, craftsmen, artists, and tourists, wl 
today can purchase the paper imag 
in Mexican markets. 

Alan R. Sandstrom is Associate Pr 
fessor of Anthropology and Pame 
Effrein Sandstrom is a reference 
brarian in Indiana University-Purd 
University at Fort Wayne. They a 
currently doing fieldwork in northe 
Mexico on a Fulbright Research F< 
lowship. They have traveled and r 
searched extensively in northern ai 
central Mexico and among the Tibeta 
in exile in northern India. 

University of Oklahoma 


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MAN, OKLAHOMA 73019 ISBN: 0-8061-1972-1